Plaudits for Sticks ‘n Stones

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Two new national accolades are set to catapult anti-cyber bullying group Sticks ‘n Stones (SNS) to a whole new level.

SNS founding member and board vice-chairwoman Ashleigh Smith (19), of Naseby, was last week named winner of New Zealand’s Queen’s Young Leader Award for 2017.

During the same week, SNS facilitator Karla Sanders was announced as one of five recipients of a $100,000 Vodafone Foundation 2017 World of Difference Award.

News of both accolades was still sinking in, but the awards would elevate the work and profile of SNS to national and international levels, Miss Smith and Mrs Sanders said.

Miss Smith, who is studying nursing at Otago Polytechnic, will receive a package of training that includes a one-week residential programme in the United Kingdom, during which time the Queen will confer on her the award.

The $100,000 of funding for Mrs Sanders will mean her part-time role can be changed to a full-time one and also pay for other programme costs for one year. That would help SNS become an independent entity and expand to a national level.

Mrs Sanders said in her application for her award that she believed in the power of young people to stop bullying.

“Bullying has a devastating impact on the lives of young people. We need youth leadership and youth voices to change that.”

The student-led nature of SNS was the reason for its success and it was exciting the group was now expanding and becoming more autonomous, Mrs Sanders and Miss Smith said.

Previously, the group’s activities had been supported by Central Otago Reap and other grants, but the Vodafone funding would help it reach a goal of setting up as an independent registered charity.

A board had already been appointed for SNS – of equal numbers of young people and older people – and it was hoped SNS would be an incorporated society and have charitable status by mid-next year, Mrs Sanders said.

A national network of youth leaders would then be built to expand Sticks ‘n Stones throughout the country.

Miss Smith and Mrs Sanders said it was “incredibly exciting” to think about the potential of SNS and how it could help more people.

They said the benefits of SNS were twofold – empowering young people to tackle bullying, and offering authentic leadership opportunities to SNS’ youth members.

Miss Smith said she was looking forward to her mentoring through the Queen’s Young Leader Award and the subsequent opportunities for learning, networking and spreading the work of SNS. However, the enormity of the award and what it represented was still sinking in.

“I’m still digesting it. I’m trying to explain to people what it’s like and I just can’t articulate the emotion.”