Ten Years of HYC: ‘I wanted to get out there and do more in the community’ — Natasha Karsan
Natasha Karsan says being on the Howick Youth Council has given her the confidence to make the most of the opportunities that come her way.
Natasha Karsan says being on the youth council led to countless opportunities to serve the community and develop her leadership skills.
She joined the Howick Youth Council in 2016 after the encouragement of her primary school friend Mackenzie Valgre, the youth council’s chair in 2014 and its Youth Advisory Panel representative.
“I read a bit about the youth council, and the things they did really resonated with me because I wanted to get out there and do more in the community,” Natasha says.
“I saw the support the youth council got from the [Howick] Local Board, and I was like, oh, cool, this can actually go places. “I think that’s why I wanted to join the Howick Youth Council and not any other council because I knew that there was direction, and I wanted to make an impact.”
Natasha says a highlight of her first year was the 2016 Youth Summit. That’s because the youth council was able to tap into the experience of Catherine Cooper, its facilitator at the time, when organising the event.
“That was my first summit, and I thought it was pretty cool — the fact that you get students from all the schools in the area to talk about issues relevant to them.
“For me, what I really got out of that event was meeting new people. There’s no other opportunity where you get to meet other people like that because schools are a little bit separated in terms of what they do.”
Another memorable moment that year was meeting members of the Southern Youth Collective, she says. The collective was made up of the Manurewa Youth Council, Franklin Youth Advisory Board, Papakura Youth Council, and the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Squad. The group was the foundation of what eventually became the city-wide Auckland Youth Voice Network.
“I still talk to those people from the other youth councils. There are so many other young people on different boards. It helps because, at the end of the day, as we all unite, we can do more.”
As Natasha neared the end of her first year on the youth council, Veisinia Maka, a former Howick Youth Council chair and Youth Advisory Panel representative, urged her to apply for a leadership role.
“You know me, I’m such a quiet person. But, I think Veisinia saw my potential when I organised the sausage sizzle. I’m the type of person that wants to get stuff done.
"So, I contacted Countdown, I contacted the Mad Butcher … and Veisinia said, you know, you have the potential to lead,” Natasha says. So, I went for it.”
As the youth council’s chairperson, Natasha served alongside deputy chairperson Cuan Pillay, treasurer Samuel Chen, secretary Shuyi Wang, and project manager Zachary Wong.
Looking back on her tenure, she says the 2017 Youth Summit was one of the more challenging events.
“That was the time Catherine was trying to step back so we could take more charge. I think we got to a point where we kind of relied on her," Natasha says. "She said, no, you guys need to realise that when you come together, you have more power than I do to do more stuff. I think we learnt how, as young people, to take more charge.”
That year also marked the beginning of the youth council’s use of sub-committees, a precursor to its adoption of the “teams model” in 2018 where members work in groups.
“When I first started, we used to try and work as a whole big group. We didn't do as many projects as we would’ve liked because all 24 of us would try to work on one thing. Everyone had their own opinions and a way they wanted to do things. I just think the process took way longer than it should have.
“The idea of moving away from that into groups was because we wanted to do more. Within teams, you can divide work and then everyone is given responsibility.”
Natasha stepped down from the youth council at the end of 2017 to focus on her studies. It was also around that time that the youth council underwent a massive transformation.
With Catherine taking up a new position elsewhere, and the experience the youth council had accumulated, it felt it was capable of managing itself without the need for a dedicated facilitator.
The youth council also moved its home base from the cramped Howick Local Board meeting room to Te Tuhi, an art gallery and community centre in Pakuranga.
“We spoke with Hiraani [Himona, Te Tuhi’s executive director] and she was all for it. She loved supporting the youth council,” Natasha says.
“Then we got to talking because I was finishing up at the youth council, and I was in my last semester of university. I had six months before I finished my graduate programme, and I didn’t know what to do.
"So, [Hiraani] offered me a role — maternity cover for a finance position [at Te Tuhi]. Being on the Howick Youth Council led me to new opportunities and my first proper job. It was pretty cool.”
Now 25 years old, Natasha says her experience on the youth council equipped her with the skills to continue serving the community.
Through her employer’s community fund, she helped organise volunteering opportunities at Ronald McDonald House, Movember, and the Breast Cancer Foundation for her co- workers.
Natasha, who is on her way to becoming a chartered accountant, also helps young people through their accreditation journey. She says she’s thankful Veisinia pushed her to apply for a leadership position on the council. She also acknowledges former chairs Mackenzie and Zac for the impact they’ve had on her journey.
“Being on the youth council helped me in later life to put my hand up for things and not be afraid. I’m so grateful because it has led to so many opportunities.
“You don’t really think about it while you’re in the moment. But, when you reflect upon all the opportunities you’ve had in your life, it’s because someone had made an impact on you.
“Then, it’s up to you to follow through.”
This article is part of the Howick Youth Council's ten-year anniversary history book, which features interviews from past chairpeople of the group. Read the full book here and see more standalone feature articles on our website.