Work skills save at-risk youth

Lydia and Mahu Maireriki, of Kai and Kutz in Ashburton, have set up Starfish Enterprises to help get at-risk youth in to work.

Starfish Enterprise is looking for businesses to help at-risk youth in the community get into work.

The Ashburton-based initiative is the brainchild of Mahu and Lydia Maireriki, who own Kai and Kutz on Tancred Street. The initiative is aimed at helping at-risk youth get work experience.

Mahu and Lydia chose the name of the programme after a story by the late Loren Eiseley about a young boy throwing beached starfish into the ocean one at a time. When a passerby told the boy his efforts would not make any difference, as there were hundreds of stranded starfish, the boy picked up a starfish and threw it in the water. ” I made a difference with that one,” he said.

“That’s our goal with this programme,” Mahu said.

“We’re focusing on giving youth the individual attention and support they need to get into and succeed in the work force.”

Mahu was born in Cook Islands but raised in Sydney, Australia and from age 11 was a ward of the state.

He fell into the at-risk category in his youth and is passionate about seeing others in similar situations get a helping hand with training and skills to boost their confidence.

He hoped it would lead them to full-time employment, trade training, or further education.

A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mahu had served for many years as the Young Men’s President and helped youth aged 12 to 18 with their growth and development. And now he is keen to help at-risk youth who often go under the radar in Ashburton.

He is passionate about the potential of the new programme and its success for the youth involved.

Mahu and Lydia, who met when she moved to New Zealand from the USA to complete a master’s degree in emergency management at University of Canterbury, have secured funding from Te Putahitanga for 12 months to pilot a small job readiness and training programme.

Youth, aged 16 years and older, will be placed with a job mentor and learn job specific skills for up to six months, as well as general employee skills.

“There are a number of youth in the district eligible but Starfish Enterprise needs willing employers,” Lydia said.

Mahu will take on one youth who will learn food safety, cooking and customer service in the commercial kitchen at Kai and Kutz. The programme will cover wages, but employers will be expected to put time into teaching and mentoring their charge in the respective role.

“It’s not just about having free manual labour for a few months,” Lydia said.

Employers are expected to teach the youth, who would be given additional training from Mahu and training providers in topics such as personal finances, budgeting, whakapapa and good employee skills.

The programme centred on giving youth a chance to learn skills and gain confidence to be stable and financially resilient for their families, Lydia said.

Businesses can contact Mahu and Lydia via Facebook or email at