19-year-old Ryan Jones is a very busy young man. He is a father, a third-year Politics student and the youngest local body representative in New Zealand.
Third-year Politics student Ryan Jones is putting his studies into practice this year as he settles into his new role of West Harbour Community Board member.
He was elected to the board at the end of last year, making him, at 19, the youngest elected representative in New Zealand.
“My age undoubtedly played a role in the campaign,” he says. “Some folks said I was too young for such a position and others were pleased to see 'fresh blood' stepping up.”
As he was so young, Jones didn't have the profile that many of the other candidates had and knew he had to get himself known. He handed out leaflets, door knocked, met as many people as he could and even put up hoardings.
“A lot of people thought I was running for the Dunedin City Council. They'd never seen someone doing that for a community board.”
He was celebrating his son Jordan's third birthday when he received the call to say he had been elected.
“I was quite surprised by the news, as many of the other 11 candidates were more prominent in the community. But I felt good. All the work I had put in had been translated into votes – democracy in action!”
Jones, who is majoring in Politics with a minor in Māori Studies, is enjoying the opportunity his new role gives him to put his studies to the test.
“I am lucky to be able to incorporate much of what I study with what I practise in my community board role and my wider role as an activist. Whether it is the networking skills I've developed on campus or the analytical skills I've learned in the classroom, they all contribute to my public service roles."
“In terms of study, there are clear benefits with what I'm involved in and, in terms of life skills, I feel like I'm pretty well equipped for a 19-year old.”
Jones's road to university was not a traditional one. He left school in Year 12 and became a father, something that has given him a different perspective to other students his age, he says.
“A lot of my classmates are by no means in a similar situation. I think my own path is pretty unique.
“At high school I didn't really have a path into tertiary study. I was sort of thinking I'd leave school and get a job. Becoming a father was a huge part of my decision to pursue higher education and it remains a strong driver of mine today,” he says.
In 2014, Jones completed a Foundation Studies course that gave him NCEA Level 2 and confirmed his desire to study further.
“At that time I was starting to have an interest in politics and one of my classmates suggested I should go to the University of Otago. I was advised to do a Foundation Year there, which is designed to prepare you for university – essay writing, structure of lectures etc ... It's perfect.”
Now in his third year of a Bachelor of Arts, he is planning to continue his education with a master's degree in Politics. He will also continue working on key local issues, such as a more affordable public transport system for Port Chalmers, the creation of a dog park and the completion of the cycleway.
Jones, who was born and raised in West Harbour, has long been interested in issues affecting his town. His road to politics began after he joined a campaign to prevent the downgrade of the Port Chalmers New World Supermarket. He then went on to campaign against a representation review investigation into reducing the size and role of community boards.
Through these campaigns and through his studies, he met a range of people who supported his ideas and encouraged him to run for the community board.
“The initial support from elected representatives in the community was really encouraging. These were people I looked up to such as former [Dunedin City and current Otago Regional] councillor Andrew Noone and [West Harbour Community Board chairman] Steve Walker. But the most important support came from friends and family and, without that, I couldn't have given it my all.”
Jones's term as board member is for three years and, combined with his studies, being a father and his part-time jobs, promises to be a busy time.
“It's up to individual board members how much they bring to the job,” he says. “I'm pretty keen to bring as much as possible.”Story: Laura Hewson
Photo: Sharron Bennett