by Greta Yeoman
It is a homecoming of sorts for the YMCA Mid and South Canterbury’s new education manager.
The role has been taken up by Leoma de Toit, who first began working for the organisation’s South Canterbury branch about eight years ago.
She has spent the past six years working for the organisation’s Christchurch branch, but returned to Timaru at the start of the year for the new job.
Ms de Toit said she first got involved with the YMCA in 2011 when she immigrated from South Africa.
“I didn’t know about the YMCA in South Africa, you just know the song.”
The trained secondary school teacher was job hunting when a friend suggested she could volunteer for an organisation like the YMCA.
She said volunteering was a “foreign concept”, as people did not often give their time for free in South Africa.
However, she soon discovered a love for the organisation and the people involved with it, starting off as an assistant for the archery programme.
“I’d drive the van and fix broken arrows.”
Ms de Toit then ended up relieving for a tutor on one of the group’s education programmes.
Despite having to break up a fight between two girls on the second day of the role, she said she loved being able to provide “alternative education” to people who were no longer in school.
After a year and a-half in the job, she then took up a full-time role at the organisation’s Christchurch branch, tutoring for the YMCA’s Youth Guarantee programme.
She ended up being team leader and managed the scheme at the Christchurch and Ashburton offices.
However, last year she was offered a similar role at the Mid and South Canterbury office, as education manager, so relocated back to Timaru at the beginning of this year.
Her long-standing involvement with the YMCA makes her smile her now, particularly as it was only ever meant to be a short-term plan.
“I love it.”
Ms de Toit describes the role as her “dream job”.
While she always wanted to be a school principal, managing the programmes and staff providing alternative education to South and Mid Canterbury residents was potentially similar, she said.
“I get to be part of this team.”
The YMCA offers a Youth Guarantee scheme – which helps people who have left school gain their NCEA qualifications, along with intensive numeracy and literacy programmes.
The organisation also offers outdoor education, workplace-based courses for the staff members of companies and has recently taken up a contract to provide adult education programmes in the community.
Ms de Toit now laughs about her involvement with the organisation, as it was completely unknown to her when she first moved to New Zealand – but now she helps in one of its main roles.