Volunteering as a Way of Life: An Interview with Paige Sullivan

19 September 2018

Avid volunteer, Paige Sullivan (18), was born in Christchurch and has lived in Rolleston since she was nine years of age. An only child, her family ties are very strong. She lives with her parents, pet dogs (Poppy and Buster) and cat (Blossom), and is especially close to her grandparents, heading to their house every Tuesday night for tea.

Paige, Mum and Grandma

L-R: Gabrielle Sullivan (Paige’s mum), Paige Sullivan and Margaret Sullivan (Paige’s grandma)

It was her parents’ involvement in Lincoln Rotary Club that kick-started her volunteering journey.

“I started volunteering at age 11 with my parents for the Lincoln Rotary Club. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the members of Lincoln Rotary: they really shaped who I am and gave me so many opportunities which I am grateful for. They recently named me as their Young Totara of 2018 which was awesome!” says Paige.

Her involvement in Rotary encouraged her to seek other volunteering opportunities.

“I joined the Selwyn Youth Council as a general member in 2016, when our Youth Council was primarily events based. I then moved on to become the Deputy Chairperson in 2017. This was a transition year as we moved into a governance-based youth council. In this role, I was the Selwyn Youth Representative on the Creative Communities Board for Selwyn, and the Selwyn Youth Council Representative on the Youth Voice Canterbury Advisory Board. This year, I am the Chairperson of the Selwyn Youth Council.

In 2018, I also joined the management team of Youth Voice Canterbury (YVC), a ‘for youth, by youth’ organisation that aims to connect, develop and champion young people to be decision makers in their communities.”

In her YVC capacity, she organised and ran her first ever event, Regional Youth Connect, which saw around 50 young people from Canterbury come together for training around mindset and goal-setting.

Paige and Involve

YVC Management Team which presented at the 20108 INVOLVE Conference

L-R: Emily de Rooy, Kusal Ekanayake, Eleanor Hurton, Paige and Haven Gardiner-Gray

She is passionate about supporting young people and the issues that matter to them.

“I think that the young people themselves are what motivate me to contribute my time. I love seeing ideas that make New Zealand a better place for youth to thrive, become realities. I am passionate about making sure youth are heard as they are the leaders of tomorrow. I also love supporting young people to be successful; I find great intrinsic value in it,” she says.

Besides championing young people, contributing to every aspect of her community is important to Paige. It was through her role as Chairperson of the Selwyn Youth Council that Paige helped to lead the Selwyn Link Initiative, a trial bus service which benefits the more rural areas of the district in order to improve connectedness and reduce isolation. She has also been helping to lead Boost 2018, an upcoming school holiday project which consists of a week of activities for teenagers.

Paige and Selwyn Link Bus

Paige standing next to the Selwyn Link Bus timetable

Paige is a huge advocate for young people and believes strongly in the importance of recognising their achievements. She was Project Manager for the recent YMCA Canterbury Youth Awards, which saw 280 people gather together to celebrate outstanding rangatahi in the region.

Paige and YVC

YVC Management Team L-R: Emily de Rooy, Haven Gardiner-Gray, Kusal Ekanayake, Paige, Tayla Reece and Eleanor Hurton at the YMCA Canterbury Youth Awards

In addition to the many hours she invests in volunteering, Paige has also managed to find time to establish two different enterprises through her involvement in The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme and Inspiring Stories’ Youth in Social Enterprise Scholarship Programme. The first was a successful tuck shop breakfast business, but this year Paige and her business partners decided to pursue a more meaningful venture.

“We have compiled a book of inspiring stories of ex-prisoners who have turned their lives around, with the support of our partner organisation, the New Zealand Howard League. We haven’t been able to print the book yet as we are all high school students and don’t have enough funds, but the book itself is completed. Our mantra is ‘No Stigma’. The aim of this project was to reduce the stigma around the reintegration of ex-prisoners back into communities. We believe that a supportive community is vital to support this reintegration, in order to help them thrive,” she says.

Paige was also recently appointed to the Ministry of Youth Development Partnership Fund Board which seeks to establish partnerships with business and philanthropic sectors, iwi and other government organisations in order to collectively engage and collaborate to support quality youth development opportunities. She had this to say when asked if she had any advice for other rangatahi in terms of ‘giving it a go’:

“Keep in mind that your contribution matters and that you are a part of the bigger picture! It can definitely be scary at first being involved in new things and meeting new people – I used to be quite shy when talking to people I didn’t know. Those skills improve the more that you put yourself out there: it really is the only way to grow. Being involved in things isn’t just about personal development though; through contributing your time and skills you are making something better for others. Whether it is helping plant trees or running a workshop, you are making a difference!”

In Paige’s spare time, she enjoys playing rugby and joined the Lincoln High School 1st XV Girls Rugby team for the first time this year. She also enjoys playing netball, spending time with friends and listening to her favourite bands, Ocean Alley and Sticky Fingers.

Paige Sullivan and Katelyn Twiss

L-R: Katelyn Twiss and Paige

Next year, Paige plans to attend the University of Canterbury in order to undertake a double Law and Commerce Degree, majoring in marketing. She says she would one day like to establish her own social enterprise and plans to volunteer overseas as well. While not 100% sure which career path she will ultimately take, she’s interested in becoming a lawyer as she ‘loves advocating for people, especially rangatahi’.

Whatever Paige decides for her future, one thing is for sure: she’s a force to be reckoned with and rangatahi throughout Canterbury are lucky to have her on their side.