Future Leaders Coach spotlight: Marlena Martin

Marlena Martin (1).jpg

Coach Spotlight: Marlena Martin, Kawerau.

Marlena Martin believes we are simply renting the world from the generations to come - and we should invest in them  accordingly.

‘The Future Leaders programme exposes youth to phenomenal local, and national opportunities.  From meeting members of parliament, to attending New Zealand’s largest festival ‘Festival for the Future’, youth who are part of Future Leaders are able to broaden their perspectives and skills, tapping into their potential in new ways they would never have before imagined. That is profound because all generations beyond benefit; it creates a huge domino effect.’

We recently caught up with Kawerau Coach Marlena Martin to shine a light on her amazing mahi, and what inspires her to support positive change in her community. Here are just a few of the insights she shared.

Kawerau is a bush town. It is perfectly situated to explore local lakes, beaches, Tarawera waterfall, and lush forests. It’s the strong whānau vibe that Marlena finds most appealing, though. 


‘I love the sense of whakawhanaunatanga (togetherness) in Kawerau.’, she says. ‘There is a strong family vibe here, because it is a small town everyone knows each other. This is the town I have chosen to raise my children in. I have a love for Kawerau and the people of Kawerau.’

Marlena, who has recently become a qualified youth worker is raising two children while also leading the Kawerau Future Leaders Programme; she plays no small hand in contributing to Kawerau’s family vibe.  

Marlena is passionate about empowering the next generations and does as much as she can in this space because she believes firmly in the kaupapa; in unleashing the potential of our youth. ‘Kawerau is full of talented rangatahi, and it is a privilege to work with them’. She credits Future Leaders for helping her make the most of opportunities in relation to this pursuit.

‘I work with the most amazing team of people, exploring ways of doing things by constantly evolving systems and processes in a way that best serves the rangatahi and where everyone’s voice is valued - its awesome.’

Just one of these amazing people is Heidi Parks.

‘Heidi is amazing. She is 16 and she is incredibly passionate about wheelchair accessibility.  After Festival for the Future 2019, Heidi created a  social network for people looking to create change in this space. Together they are working towards initiatives which honour the shared vision of making our communities more accessible-friendly. She is an excellent role model, because she is proactive, and is not afraid to challenge those in authority by saying “here are our ideas to help our town be more accessibility-friendly… let’s work together”. She is very inspiring.


Working so closely with these youth, Marlena has also seen the challenges they face every day.

One of the biggest issues on the radar of youth today is climate change. Our rangatahi are in the drivers seat for creating awareness, and sharing the sense of urgency around this global issue. We are simply renting the world from the generations to come, and must invest in them accordingly’.

Many youth are also running for local council in various communities around the nation. Marlena believes this is fantastic because she feels that the perspective and voice of youth matters. Alongside the Future Leaders, Marlena is helping the next generations to lead the way. 

Through Future Leaders, Marlena has spent the year nurturing youth in the community - helping them develop the skills and connections needed to solve the problems they face in their local community. The problem they’ve identified - and the one they’ve developed a solution for - is hunger in the community

‘Our project is called Connecting our Community with Kai - our goal is to help relieve some of the pressure on our local whānau who may  experience poverty. We have been giving out free food to the community, and supporting the development of the Kawerau Urban Food Forest. Youth came up with this concept, and really empathised with this kaupapa because some of them had experienced similar challenges as children.
We care about our community and  the families in it, especially the children. It’s not just about giving people food, it’s about coming together, caring for each other, and connecting on a deeper level. This is why Connecting our Community with Kai is so important
. We are so grateful to our community who have supported the project’. 

The Future Leaders programme has enabled Marlena to show the rangatahi she works with that they can develop and action solutions to problems they face. ‘They possess the power and capabilities to impact positive change in the community.’

‘The difference Future Leaders is making in rural communities is profound and there is no programme like it. We are very grateful in Kawerau to have this programme. The space it creates to learn and grow, the experiences and learnings are so rich. It’s fantastic that this programme is available in communities that would otherwise be ignored.’