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25 Years on 6 months funding

Tim Tipene has been changing the lives of thousands of NZ children and their families for 25 years and he's done it without funding.

Tim Tipene ready to teach Warrior Kids

In 1994 at the age of 22, Tim was unemployed and had no fixed abode. Without any formal qualifications or funding, Tim started the Warrior Kids program to help kids in his community, teaching them self control and social skills. Over time Tim became a trained counselor with a graduate certificate in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and has now been providing Warrior Kids to communities and schools for 25 years, taking referrals from community and government agencies, and changing the lives of thousands. In all that time Warrior Kids only ever received 6 months of funding.

'There were a lot of promises from funders over the years, but in the end they were saying things like, why should we fund you when you've already been operating without funding?' Tim says. 'Sometimes funders would visit me, encourage me to apply for their funding and then turn me down. It turned out that they were just needing so many services to apply for funding to justify their existence.'

Tim says that even the funding that he received was minimal. 'It was only to fund 2 or 3 classes per week for a couple of terms. It never covered the full operation. I wasn't going to let a lack of funds stop me though.'

Tim started Warrior Kids in Helensville, north of Auckland. Wanting to break the cycle of abuse and violence that he had grown up with, Tim changed the martial arts class that he was teaching into a program to assist children and families who were facing the same issues.

To begin with Tim used his unemployment benefit to pay for it. When he got work he used his wages.

'I looked for any way to keep the running costs of the program low. Having been abused as a child I was out to save the world so I didn't care about being paid for what I was doing. For families that could afford it I charged $4 per session. Those that couldn't afford it got to do it for free.'

As time went on and the effectiveness of Warrior Kids became more well known Schools contracted Tim to come in and run his program with their children.

'I used the money that I got from my school contracts to fund my community based classes.'

Warrior Kids with Tim Tipene 1994

Tim Tipene teaching Warrior Kids 1994

After all the let downs and broken promises Tim turned his back on seeking funding a long time ago.

'Seeking funding is a full time job. That would have taken me away from working face to face with the children and their families, which is where my passion has always been. I've never made any money from Warrior Kids, but money has never been my reason for doing it. It hasn't been easy, it was always a struggle, especially when I was on my own with my two kids. I was embarrassed after so many years with nothing to show for myself. There were plenty of times that I was going to give up.'

Sometimes the struggle got so hard that Tim had to turn to Work and Income for help.

'I never liked having to go to WINZ,' he says. 'WINZ were telling me to stop Warrior Kids. They wanted me to go stack shelves in a supermarket. I've given so much to NZ, more than I've ever been given.'

Demand for Tim and his program from throughout the country has never stopped. Tim says that there has always been a shortage of people willing to work with kids on the front line.

'It's one thing to talk about the issues and to throw money at problems, but what we really need is more adults committed to working with children and their families on a personal level. That's the only way to create change. These things are not covered in schools.'

Today Tim, who is also an award winning author and inspirational speaker, is running Warrior Kids and teen classes behind his home in Ranui, West Auckland, in a large garage that over time he has converted into a studio.

'It's nothing flash but it does the trick. People have suggested that I turn the studio into accommodation and rent it out for income. However what has been important to me is to keep Warrior Kids going. The program is now 25 years old. That's an achievement. I'm glad that I didn't give up. I feel blessed that I've been able to make a difference.'

Below NZ Actress Teuila Blakely opens up about Warrior Kids and how it changed her life.