by ESME O’RAFFERTY

A New Plymouth youth leader is encouraging local young people to see Christ in others, by way of young people preparing community meals for those less fortunate.

Youth leader sparks compassion Hika Perez, who leads the youth team in the parish of New Plymouth, said she came up with the idea after moving to the area and seeing there was little in the way of events for local youth.

“When I started, our parish priest [Fr Simon Story] said his goal was
for the people to come together,” Ms Perez said.

“There was a lot of stuff going on, but not a lot of stuff for the youth. I really wanted to get into the public high schools, building bridges in the community,” she said.

The dinners, which are made with donations from community sponsors — including businesses Nestlé and Inghams Chicken — have been planned to be once a month.

The first one took place in August. Students from five local secondary schools, including Francis Douglas Memorial College and Sacred Heart Girls’ College, were reportedly involved.

Ms Perez, who reportedly co-organised the dinners with Alton Gondipon, said she wanted to give the opportunity to all youth to encounter poverty in the community because she felt that they needed to appreciate what they had. This meant overlooking material possessions, and focussing on the gifts of friendship and community.

“Everyone here is privileged . . . the goal was that they know how lucky they are, just to encounter that friendship with others,” Ms Perez said.

“The focus was to give, to understand where everyone is at . . . not everything is about having the latest trend, there’s more to life than
social media.”

“Instead of meeting up to spend money, meeting up to go partying, they can come together in a very different way, where they help other people but can also feel good about themselves,” she said.

“We have the highest suicide rates, we have depression . . . sometimes kids don’t understand when we try to preach to them in a real, Christian way. . . [the dinners] will help the kids to ignite that compassion and to react with love — and to love themselves.”

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