“I thought it was a cool photo,” says the now-short-haired and somewhat older Blair. “But I guess Mum didn't expect it, considering that when I left home I was heading to university to do a Bachelor in eterinary Science.” Back then, Blair did in fact study for a while. But then he dropped out, bought a house bus, grew his hair and stopped wearing shoes.
After a year or so the gloss wore off. He got hungry. With hunger came the realisation that people weren’t just going to give him everything. “I thought I was really hard done by,” he laughs at himself. “I actually had to do stuff, like work, so I could eat, and I realised I was hungry to learn.”
Blair re-enrolled at university, this time at Otago, and knuckled down. Still living in his house bus, he completed a double major degree in education and psychology, and has since completed a masters and postgraduate studies in management. During his time at Otago, he worked with Wide Horizons, an outdoor education programme for youth, run by Innes McColl. Blair was a researcher bought in to evaluate the programme in order for funding to continue.
“Innes was an inspirational, practical person,” says Blair. “He believed that if we instill in our young people care and respect of the environment, other people and themselves, then we've changed the world.” Blair gained further insight into the value of the outdoors as a tool to work when he took people when he took an opportunity to be involved with Outward Bound at Anakiwa. While Blair was at Outward Bound, his partner Julie returned to Rotorua to introduce their new baby son to the family. “She ‘accidentally’ got a great job within her profession, and I came home to be a house husband,” he grins. “I thought it would be real cruisy, but I had no time to cook or clean because I was so busy looking after the baby!”
After six months, Blair started work with Karldon House, working with people moving from psychiatric care into the community, and with Rotorua’s Te Waiariki Purea Trust, a youth development organisation.
Again, he found the outdoor environment to be a powerful and useful space for people to make an ongoing long-term change. With a leaning towards adventure therapy, Blair went to Waiariki Institute of Technology to lecture in social work. There he was part of a team that wrote a degree in social science; specifically writing the adventure therapy major within the degree programme. “It was a world-first,” he says proudly.
His research and involvement in adventure therapy took him around the world. He was the national leader of the NZ delegation on the Japanese Ship for World Youth, and through his work with mountain adventurer and youth development leader Graeme Dingle, Blair led the Youth on Ice programme to Antarctica in 2006 – “an amazing, life changing time.”
In 2006, Blair joined the Ministry of Youth Development (MYD) as regional team manager for the central north region. “I saw it as an opportunity to influence youth development nationwide, and I was excited about leading people who were inspired by young people and committed to ensuring they develop well.” It may seem that Blair swapped the outdoors for a desk, but that is not the reality. He’s a long distance runner and a keen mountain climber. In 2007 he was one of a team of three people who successfully climbed the North Island’s four highest peaks in one day.
Blair is particularly interested (and qualified) in mountain safety and ski instructing and is a member of the specialised Ministry of Social Development trained, Emergency Welfare Reserves. In his spare time, Blair is a volunteer fire fighter with Lake Okareka Rural Fire Force. With a rising demand for their services, the fire force and other volunteer emergency services need all the help they can get. Blair saw an opportunity to get young people involved with emergency services as well as more connected with their communities.
“It struck me that we could prepare our young people to be on hand in emergencies like floods, storms, earthquakes or civil emergency, while also achieving our MYD strategic goal of increasing youth citizenship.” Blair and a working group of volunteers developed the Youth in Emergency Services (YES) pilot project which ran for the first time last year in partnership with Rotorua emergency services.
Over four weeks, 15 young people attended Thursday evening sessions and Saturday morning inspirational introductions to different emergency services. The programme culminated in a weekend camp where the young people responded to a series of emergency scenarios – fighting fires, rescuing people from cliffs, extracting and treating injured victims. They are then supported to become volunteers in a service of their choice.
“Our young people became engaged with the good people in our community who volunteer their time in support of others,” Blair says. “They also learnt new skills, spent time with positive role models and learnt that ‘New Zealand needs them’ while discovering opportunities to be volunteers themselves.”
The project attracted national interest. Civil Defence and Youth Affairs Minister Nikki Kay extended the programme to Kaikohe, Mangakino/Turangi, Taupo, Gisborne, Alexandra and Kaikoura, with a second project in Rotorua. YES was also runner up in the Educational and Child/Development category at the Trust Power Spirit of Rotorua Awards in October 2013.
“Do you know what the coolest thing is? The coolest thing is that every day at the Ministry of Youth Development I’m part of a team that supports the future of New Zealand. I’m privileged to be part of that.”