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Volunteering helps migrants into the workforce

SuperGrans at work.
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Helping others is helping get highly qualified migrants into the New Zealand workforce. It’s an unexpected spin-off from the SuperGrans organisation whose focus is on grass roots wellbeing.

At SuperGrans they help people build skills to better manage their household income and reduce their costs of living.

These skills include home cooking, budget shopping, meal planning and preparation, gardening to supplement the food table and sewing skills to mend the family clothing.

Opening job market doors

For the migrant mentors themselves it gives them the opportunity to improve their English, valuable hands-on experience and a reference that is opening doors into the job market.

A young Chilean woman living in Lower Hutt was offered paid employment after supporting a refugee family for six months.  A social worker in her own country but without New Zealand experience, she found it difficult to find work.

Over the past three years five migrant women in Lower Hutt have gained paid employment as a result of volunteering for SuperGrans.

Lower Hutt Mayor, Ray Wallace, congratulating SuperGran volunteers in his community. Two in this photo are migrant women who have now found work.

SuperGrans uses generous and community-minded people, provides training on whanau mentoring, and matches their skill sets and interests with whanau who ask for help.

Some who become mentors include the newly-retired who are in a position to support their community using the life skills they have gained, students wanting practical experience as they complete their studies in the social sector, and people, mainly women, wanting to get back into the workforce.

SuperGrans’ oldest mentor retired at the age of 86 after nine years of volunteering. She worked with many families and taught her last mum how to use an oven.

Foundation supports SuperGrans

Through the generosity and passion of the Wright Family Foundation, the agency is provided with a significant annual donation. The Wright Family Foundation CEO and new patron for Supergrans, Chloe Wright, believes

love grows brains.”

This funding enables SuperGran mentors to support parents with babies and small children to give their young family the best start in life. Some of these parents just need reassurance that they are doing a good job and a little guidance in the absence of family support.

Other groups that SuperGrans volunteers often help are women becoming mothers in their 30s and 40s, new migrants, and recently widowed older men who need to improve their cooking skills.

Some of the mentoring is to help new migrants unfamiliar with New Zealand kitchens, appliances and products found in the supermarket.

SuperGrans was founded in Lower Hutt by Erin McMenamin to help stay-at-home mothers get back into the workforce. The era was the mid-1990s when money had become tighter following the 1987 share market crash.

Initial focus one-to-one

Initially, SuperGrans’ focus was in the home using one-to-one teaching to support the younger generation with skills, such as home cooking, gardening and sewing.

Founder Erin McMenamin.

“These were skills many had missed out on learning from their mothers who had returned to paid work as their children grew,” Erin says.

Erin received a Queen’s Service Medal for her work and, during her years at the organisation’s helm, its concept spread to Australia and Britain.

More branches were established around New Zealand, including Gisborne, Dunedin, Māngere, Bush Supergrans in Paihatua, Horowhenua, Manawatū and Western Bay of Plenty (Katikati).  The SuperGran brand will soon be delivered in Hamilton through Parentline.

The brand focus is on people learning skills themselves, not doing the work for them.

A key point of difference with SuperGran agencies is that they all work slightly differently as they strive to meet the unique needs of their communities.

Umbrella support

SuperGrans Aotearoa was established in the early 2000s to provide umbrella support to connect the branches and support their collective goals. Its current chair is Chris Martin, who is also manager of the SuperGrans Charitable Trust in the Wellington region.

SuperGrans work with community mentors/whanau workers, women and men of all ages, who are chosen for the type of experience and skills they have, and are trained to be SuperGrans. They do this all in their own time alongside paid co-ordinators to guide them.

Chris says many of the people SuperGrans help are isolated and don’t have family nearby to look to for support. Many are affected by childhood traumas and struggle to engage with official systems.

For some it “absolutely changed their world” and resulted in improved self-esteem and an ability to be responsible for themselves and their children.

Target audience

“SuperGrans Charitable Trust recently took part in a survey that confirmed they are absolutely working in the sector the Government sees as the target audience,” Chris says.

Chris Martin is chair of SuperGrans Aotearoa and manager for the SuperGrans Charitable Trust in the Wellington region.

“There is a demand for volunteers who speak other languages with our increasing migrant and refugee population. The value of someone who not only speaks the language but understand the culture, trauma and experiences that some people present with makes a significant difference to the outcome for the whanau learning journey, she says.

“One family had come to the attention of authorities, including police and Oranga Tamariki Ministry of Children, despite the support they had received for some time.   A mentor worked with the family for only a few weeks, identified the key issue and was able to help the family make changes needed to enable everyone to be safe and achieve their goals. The cultural understanding, as well as having a common language, was key to this outcome.”

Building blocks for success

Chris left her police role three years ago to manage SuperGrans Charitable Trust. With 18 years’ policing and 16 years’ nursing experience, Chris said she could see the potential for SuperGrans because it supports people fully; it is a soft entry, grass roots social service that helps create the building block for wellbeing and success in life.

The Wright Family Foundation’s philosophy of ‘love grows brains’ is the driver behind the work of SuperGrans.

“I see budgeting as the hand and financial mentoring as a holistic way to the support the totality of the human spirit as people walk their journey of change,” Chris says.

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For more information:

Check out the website for information around the country. SuperGrans in the Wellington district work across the Hutt Valley, Porirua and the northern suburbs of Wellington.

“If you need support to understand your family finances, get out of debt or want to reduce your cost of living by learning home skills such as cooking, budget shopping, menu planning and other home skills we may be able to help you,” Chris says.

Chris, or one of her team, will answer your call on 04 566 9778 or respond to your email at [email protected].

How you can help

If you’re interested in supporting your community in this unique way, call Chris for a chat. They are also looking for men and women who want to volunteer as financial and or community mentors.

“For those that already volunteer their time or work for SuperGrans, thank you for being the wonderful people you are. Your efforts make a huge difference to people in our community and everyone gets to enjoy the learning journey,” says Chris.

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