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Almost time to say goodbye . . . Oamaru Salvation Army employment and education centre manager and tutor Joseph Cropley (centre) surrounded by pupils (from left) Katana Cropley (16), Gabby Wilson (16), Courtney Waldron (16), Taneisha Paea (16) and Melissa Presnall (15). PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

For the past eight years, Joseph Cropley has been educating and supporting Oamaru’s young adults at the Salvation Army employment and education centre.

But his time there is coming to an end – the Oamaru centre is one of many around the country that will close at the end of June.

In March, the Salvation Army announced a proposal to shut all of its 21 centres, which collectively employ 88 staff and cater for hundreds of students, unable to sustain the costs involved with running them. Last week, it was confirmed the proposal would go ahead.

The Oamaru centre offers life skills and career advice, NCEA level 1 and 2 qualifications and New Zealand certificates in tourism and computing.

Mr Cropley started as manager and tutor at the centre in 2011, bring his experience in primary and secondary teaching, alternative education and behaviour management to the role.

“We get 15 to 19-year-olds, usually those who don’t suit mainstream education,” he said.

“A lot of them are just looking for a supportive environment, a place they belong to.”

Mr Cropley’s role extends beyond just teaching – empowering students, and drawing out their skills and talents with encouragement.

“I’ve always created a whanau environment,” he said.

“I just like helping out young people and seeing them make positive changes in their lives. It flows on through the families.”

Over the past eight years, he has tutored more than 130 pupils and enjoyed seeing them go on to gain employment or complete further training and education.

“For a lot of them, this is the first place they’d been where the learning had suited them and where they’d had fun and wanted to come,” he said.

“Seeing the change in the youth and their families, the change in their mindsets, the change in their behaviours, self-esteem and confidence – just seeing them be able to go from being withdrawn with no sense of future purpose to leaving positive with goals.

“Overall, that’s been the major highlight.”

He remains in contact with many of his former pupils.

“I think that’s really important, too. Some of them when they leave might go off the rails, but I just have a wee yarn to them and get them back on track,” he said.

Mr Cropley is not sure what the future holds for him, but he is looking forward to taking some time out. He will continue to run his boxing club, the Oamaru Boxing Club Waitaki Warriors.

”It’s not about me though; it’s all about the youth – there are six or seven who started this year and won’t be able to finish what they started,” he said.

He is helping them complete what they can before the centre closes and transition them into employment or further education.

He hoped the community could drive another youth education initiative in Oamaru.

“When I first started here there used to be groups of 20 to 30 kids just milling around at the parks, drinking after school . I haven’t seen that for so many years and I just don’t want it to go back to that sort of thing.”

He expressed his thanks to everyone who had been involved in the centre over the years, especially stakeholders, pupils, families and chaplain Lyla Jackson.