3 ways that bring joy - with Diane Vivian, QSO and Jill Nerheny, QSM
Diane was born on the North Shore and lived in Devonport in her early years in a transit house on Mt Victoria, before moving to a state house in Bayswater and then to Pt England. Her family built a home in Stillwater, and they eventually moved there and she went to Orewa District High School. Diane was part of a family with 5 children, and her mother was a seamstress, father a wharfie.
Her first job was working in a pharmacy, Boots the Chemist in Auckland City – she remembers her father driving her and her sister into the city along East Coast Bays Road which was a gravel, metal road in those days. She remembers going to the comb-up bars in the city and going up to George Courts and enjoying young adult life.
She met her husband Erin in Tairua – her parents to make some extra money rented the takeaway bar at Tairua and ran it over the summer months. They slept in tents out the back and helped her parents run the takeaways. Erin was working doing hay-making at the time and they met at Tairua and later married when she was 17. They moved back up to North Shore to settle down and raise a family.
They raised three children and two foster children, and she found herself also having to raise two of her foster grandchildren. It was from this experience that the need for the Grandparents raising Grandchildren Trust was born. Diane remembers the issues facing grandparents raising their grandchildren in the late 1990s with court cases and access rights. One particularly poignant was meeting an elderly woman in tears with her grandchildren clinging to her not wanting to go on their legal visits at a local Care Centre.
Around this time she met Jill and she put an early advert in the North Shore Times around grandparents needing assistance and support raising their grandchildren. From these beginnings the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (GRG) Trust was born. Since then the phones never stopped ringing. Diane with Jill’s help held the first meeting at Highbury House and from there the organisation grew and grew. At that first meeting where politicians and others were invited grandparents told their stories – and they were raw and honest and often heartbreaking.
Diane initially worked on the movement/organisation from home, from the kitchen table for 15 years, in between raising her own grandchildren and being heavily involved in their primary school – the need from other grandparents was there and she was taking up to 30 phone calls a day. In 2001 the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust was established, as a not-for-profit dedicated to providing services for grandparents raising grandchildren to promote the wellbeing and long-term development of children in their care. GRG’s vision is for a community where grandparents raising grandchildren are empowered to provide a safe, secure and nurturing home for their grandchildren. Diane has been National Convenor, and although no longer in this role continues to be actively involved with the Trust with their Facebook and newsletters. It’s an organisation that is known to have solid foundations, built on the volunteer hours and love that Diane has invested in it herself. GRG is NZ wide, providing support services to approximately 7500 full-time grandparents/whanau carers. Twenty years later it has truly stood the test of time.
It continues to be her passion and her purpose. She has been a tireless advocate for grandparents to ensure they are able to obtain the benefits and support that they are entitled to. She is strongly motivated by a sense of justice and fairness – and if she sees an injustice she aims to do better and do things the right way. The foundation has built up a solid reputation, it delivers what it promises and always gets back to those seeking help and support as quickly as possible. For Diane it’s incredibly sad that twenty years on many of the same issues are still facing children and their grandparents – she feels NZ has a history of sweeping some of these more challenging issues under the mat – and she strongly believes we need to expose the issues, and learn the lessons from them and do better for the next generation.
Jill was born in Hamilton and did all her schooling in Hamilton. She has one sister and lived with her mother and father. Her father was a war veteran and suffered from mental health issues and became addicted to alcohol, eventually her mother separated from him. They lived with her mother as she worked hard to bring in an income as a seamstress.
Jill was involved in Marching from a young age (as well Diane). She left school and got her first job at Clyde Engineering at 15 and following on from that role she worked in another engineering firm Gough Gough & Hayman. She was single and had a good job and was enjoying life! In her early 20s she joined the NZ Army – she was initially offered a role in the kitchen staff, and when she refused point-blank to take that up she was then reassessed and offered a clerical position which she accepted. She started in Christchurch before being posted to Papakura to the engineering unit which she recalls involved a lovely group of men. One of the aspects of her life which she is grateful for is that she seems to fall in with the best of people. However, she didn’t really conform to many of the Army mold with her hair dyed pink and her fluoro-coloured shoe laces, and she spent quite a bit of time “confined to barracks”.
This was a formative part of her journey and during this time she met Bill also in the Army. She married him (whilst reversing the traditional vows!) and they spent time being posted around the country including to Whangarei, Papakura, Hamilton, Wellington (Porirua). She had three children, one born in Whangarei, one in Papakura and one in Hamilton. When she was in Papakura she decided to develop a programme for army wives (dependents) to provide a better support system for them.
Then they were posted to Singapore where they lived for two years. Jill didn’t really take to the ex-pat lifestyle and instead directed her energy into establishing a youth programme. This was really well supported by the Army and really benefited the young people overseas with their parents. For the first time they looked at things from the children/young people’s perspective with a view to help make resettling back into New Zealand as streamlined as possible. On their return to NZ they moved back to Burnham and Jill started up a new youth programme.
Bill decided it was time to leave the Army and they ended up eventually buying a house on the North Shore and after looking at 6 houses, Jill decided on one with a red kitchen in Birkdale (the red kitchen sold it!). Before moving into this house Jill was involved in a serious, life-threatening parachute accident – she suffered from a fractured back, a stroke and severe memory loss. From her true tenacity of spirit and sheer determination Jill was able to heal and eventually was able to recover. She was able to accept her loss of memory and this is one of the things that helped her recover more quickly along with acupuncture and other support. She had a lovely neighbour who would take her for walks and Bill became her primary caregiver whilst also working and raising their children.
She became heavily involved in her local school and the Birkdale/Beach haven community – she decided to clean up the school and bring some more colour and care into the school grounds & environment. She then became involved in the Birkenhead Community Trust initially when they were raising funds for a new swimming pool. This organisation has evolved into the Kaipatiki Community Facilities Trust which Jill leads & manages, a unique community development agency which embodies an empowering community partnership model. KCFT’s vision is for strong, sustainable neighbourhoods where people get involved in increased opportunities for recreation, connection, community activity and a community that celebrates its neighbourhoods.
She is passionate about community and the lovely people she’s connected with in an effort to build the community up. She acknowledges the deep and lasting contribution of the forebears of Beach haven/Birkdale area who have put invested a massive amount of wellbeing into the area - the foresight of these pioneers has continued to have an impact today and allows the community of today to flourish – as well as have benefits and reach beyond the immediate geographic boundaries.
3 ways that bring joy
Knowing I’ve helped someone, and been able to lighten their load.
My children and family
My work and coming to it with a positive approach, having a sense of humour.
Seeing a young person that may have had a challenging past turn things around and being able to take a different journey and change themselves.
My work and making a difference in our community.
(We got side-tracked in the conversation!!!)
One thing people can do to contribute to a better, kinder New Zealand
Tolerance and compassion – you don’t know what people are going through unless you have walked in their shoes – so just be and show more compassionate for other people. Together we can do this.
Know your neighbour – get back to how it used to be when we all knew our neighbours, have more ownership of the public street, find out who your neighbours are if you don’t already know them – hold street BBQs and have fun! Become a community that knows one another, and supports one another through good and hard times.
Both of these ladies have been recognised by Queen Elizabeth 2nd for QSM (Jill) and QSO (Diane) and Points of Light representing NZ at the Heads of Commonwealth Summit 2018. You can find out more about the work these ladies are involved in here: