Turning a corner: Why this wayward Auckland teen stayed in school

by Vomle Springford / 15 November, 2018
Acer Ah Chee-Wilson and Sir Graeme Dingle. Photo/Sylvie Whinray

Acer Ah Chee-Wilson and Sir Graeme Dingle. Photo/Sylvie Whinray

RelatedArticlesModule - related

On his way to dropping out of high school, a west Auckland teen found himself turning a corner, thanks to a one-on-one mentoring programme.

When Acer Ah Chee-Wilson was 14, he wanted to be in a gang. Now, at 21, he’s an arborist, is planning to head overseas on a working holiday and has just won the 2018 Sir Edmund Hillary Youth Achievement Award.

The former Waitākere College student struggled at high school – in fact, he hated it. 

“I just found it better outside of school, getting up to mischief with my mates.”

“My brothers and I would steal radios and sell them, steal cars and crash them, break windows of homes and cars.”

Then he was introduced by the school to Project K, a 14-month programme run by the Graeme Dingle Foundation, which pairs teens with mentors, as well getting them to do outdoor activities and challenges. The aim is to build teens’ confidence in themselves and help them find purpose and direction.

Ah Chee-Wilson was paired with a man named Tony, who he credits as the reason why he stayed in school and went to university. His mentor checked in with him regularly about schoolwork and his personal life.  

“Tony stepped up, he carried on with me, helping me out, helping me stay out of trouble. He’d give my mum a call, and he’d come hang out with me at school or outside of school. We’d go to Burger King, rugby games, or for a bike ride.”

It sounds pretty simple – Ah Chee-Wilson likens it to just two mates hanging out, but he says this completely changed his life. He is still in touch with his mentor today: “We’re boys”.

Ah Chee-Wilson says it felt great to win the award because he’d never won anything outside of school. “I finished school and thought ‘I won’t get any more awards or achieve anything’ so it was pretty good when I found out I got it.”

Ah Chee-Wilson hopes to be a mentor himself in the future, after going overseas to Australia and Canada for a working holiday.

The awards, held by the Graeme Dingle Foundation, recognised 22 young people who have gone on to achieve success after being involved in the foundation’s youth development programmes.

The Foundation’s namesake, mountaineer and outdoor education pioneer, co-founder Sir Graeme Dingle, says the awards perfectly showcase what the Foundation lives and breathes – transforming young lives forever.

For Ah Chee-Wilson, it showed him he could become more than a drop-out: “I’ve looked further into the future, to where I want to be and to who I’m going to be.”

Follow NOTED on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our twice-weekly email.

Latest

Tech Week: Time to celebrate Aotearoa’s own overlooked moonshot
106359 2019-05-25 00:00:00Z Tech

Tech Week: Time to celebrate Aotearoa’s own overlo…

by Peter Griffin

“We bow down to this idea of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos going to Mars, when here in our own country, we had the equivalent."

Read more
Kiwi composer John Rimmer: An instrumental figure
106331 2019-05-24 11:09:35Z Music

Kiwi composer John Rimmer: An instrumental figure

by Elizabeth Kerr

Contemporaries and students are paying tribute to composer John Rimmer and his musical legacy.

Read more
Why Caroline Easther is thanking her Lucky stars
106325 2019-05-24 10:39:21Z Music

Why Caroline Easther is thanking her Lucky stars

by James Belfield

Well-known drummer Caroline Easther has stepped out front with a debut solo album.

Read more
Comedian buys Destiny Church's new political party's domain names
106322 2019-05-24 00:00:00Z Politics

Comedian buys Destiny Church's new political party…

by RNZ

Comedian Tim Batt buys up domains for new Brian Tamaki-backed political party.

Read more
Simon Bridges is hobbled in hate-speech debate
106336 2019-05-24 00:00:00Z Politics

Simon Bridges is hobbled in hate-speech debate

by Graham Adams

The National Party is leaving the heavy lifting of defending free expression to Act MP David Seymour.

Read more
When did a damn fine cup of coffee get so complicated?
106251 2019-05-24 00:00:00Z Food

When did a damn fine cup of coffee get so complica…

by Jean Teng

Long-time latte sipper Jean Teng embarks on a journey through the world of soft brews.

Read more
Win a double pass to a special preview of Sometimes Always Never
106301 2019-05-24 00:00:00Z Win

Win a double pass to a special preview of Sometime…

by The Listener

Billy Nighy plays Alan, a stylish tailor with moves as sharp as his suits, who has spent years searching tirelessly for his missing son.

Read more
What we must learn from the Israel Folau controversy
106275 2019-05-23 09:31:01Z Social issues

What we must learn from the Israel Folau controver…

by The Listener

Israel Folau has done us the unintended favour of showing how hard and counterproductive it would be to try to outlaw all comments that ...

Read more