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Valued volunteer

Wendy Poananga moved to Gisborne just over two years ago — she was retiring and had roots and family on the East Coast. She wanted to make connections in her new community and many of the people she met when first moving here were volunteering in some capacity. She went straight to the Gisborne Volunteer Centre to see what was available.

This is her story . . .

Born in Whangarei, Wendy Poananga was one of three children and the daughter of an officer in the New Zealand Armed Forces.

“We moved around a lot and spent time living in Malaysia and the UK, but my dad’s father came from Ruatoria and his sister

Honoria lived there all her life,” says Wendy.

She has memories of visiting her auntie Nori in Ruatoria when she was very young.

On observing her uncle Lou milking cows, she failed to see the connection with the milk that she was used to seeing in her home and informed him that “our milk comes in a bottle,” which everyone found very funny at the time.

She and her ex-husband David had two children, Jesse and Emma, who were raised in the Hutt Valley, just north of Wellington.

“Emma is currently living in London and Jesse is based in Wellington.”

Emma will be home in October and Wendy is looking forward to showing her around Gisborne.

Wendy went to Victoria University and started her adult life with a double degree in English Literature and Law.

She worked as a government solicitor before moving into the editorial world in the law book industry and other publishing sectors.

One career highlight was editing a large non-fiction work for Huia Publishers called “Te Tau Ihu O Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Vol 2,” by Hilary Mitchell and Maui John Mitchell, which won the history category in the 2008 Montana Book Awards.

“It was a bit of a mission. It was a big project and quite daunting at times.

“I worked on it from home and remember the couriers delivering these large cartons of manuscripts from time to time.

“Emma was at that age when she found my trials and tribulations a great source of amusement. I’m sure her sense of humour helped me through.

“I did change jobs quite often in my career.After two or three years in a job I tended to be looking for the next challenge.”

Wendy’s volunteering began when her youngest child Emma was under two-years old and, as she had some time on her hands, she volunteered with Citizens Advice Bureau, her child’s playcentre and the toy library in Upper Hutt.

“I loved working at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Upper Hutt. This was in the days before computerisation and it was just such a cosy, nice environment.

“It set the precedent for what I expected from other volunteer positions. There was no stress — it was very pleasant.”

This period of volunteering related back to the mid-1990s and Wendy had to check an old CV to remember exactly which places she had volunteered in back then.

“Learning is a life-long thing and often as you get older you’ve got the right attitude and more confidence as well,” she says.

“There are a lot of older people who may have been in the same job for years but don’t realise they have so many more skills than the obvious work-related ones.

“They have life skills and experience they can bring to many volunteer roles in the community.

“I was trying to figure out where I wanted to retire and I decided on Gisborne.

“Some of the women I met when I first moved here were working in the op shops,” she says.

“The reasons I want to volunteer are many — it is an ideal way to connect with people, it feels different from paid work as it’s a charitable act, and it’s not about the money.”

Wendy feels valued when volunteering.

“People treat you differently when you volunteer — they appreciate you for that reason.

“You’re not getting money for it so I think they tend to value you more for it.

“I’ve never volunteered for an organisation where I haven’t felt valued.

“You give your best because if you’re there, it’s because you want to be, not because you have to be.”

All of the organisations she has volunteered for have been not-for-profit which she described as generally under-resourced so there’s also an element of empathy.

“They get something from you, but you get something intrinsic in the satisfaction of giving something to them.

“Volunteering is about working out what you want to do, what you find enjoyable or where you might find like-minded people.

“There is a certain amount of altruism involved, but you also have the opportunity to try new things so it is a reciprocal thing.”

She said when people retire, they have reached a certain point in their lives and just getting out there and trying different things helps them to recognise the skills they have and realise their value.

“Everyone has something to offer although I think volunteering attracts a certain type of person.

“In general, volunteers are community-minded people, kind and personable.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met an unpleasant person I was volunteering with, or who didn’t share the same ethos as me, more or less.”

Now Wendy wants to try something new and give back to the Maori community, so she is being supported by the Gisborne Volunteer Centre to connect with Tairawhiti Technology Trust, a local organisation supporting kaumatua to engage with technology and social media.

“I’m excited to make this connection and see where it goes.”

EAST COAST CONNECTION: Wendy Poananga, who whakapapas to East Coast iwi, chose to retire and relocate from Wellington to Gisborne two years ago. She has recently met with Tairawhiti Technology Trust’s Polly Crawford to discuss a voluntary role within the organisation which would utilise her editorial, writing and adminstrative skills. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell