The Whanau Centre at VisionWest is the natural outcome of realising two key ideas.
One was that the majority of clients being seen by VisionWest staff were either Maori or Pasifika, and it therefore made sense to provide an overarching environment that was most culturally appropriate.
The second realisation was that was a lot of overlap in the services being provided to individuals and whanau who were accessing the Trust’s services.
“If we claim to be transformational,” says Josh Philips, Whanau Centre General Manager, “it seems to us essential that we should be fully co-ordinated in our approach so we don’t double up on one hand or have people fall between the cracks on the other hand.
“If we’re giving someone a food parcel on a regular basis, it stands to reason that they probably could do with some budgeting advice as well, and most likely their employment situation needs addressing. So we can provide budget help and maybe some training for works skills through our Mahi Ora programme. “
“Or maybe they’re leaving the food bank then going to drop off a child at our kindy and then heading to counselling so there’s a lot going on there and we knew we needed to be better co-ordinated, so we have a holistic approach to all that engagement.
It’s clear talking to Josh that it’s the spirit of the Whanau Centre that is getting breakthroughs with some people – a centre that is friendly and responsive to those in need.
“A guy came onto the campus, who I recognised from the old days in Otara, South Auckland. I said to him, ‘Hey I know you, you used be in the Stormtroopers’ –they were a gang down South.
“Now here’s the issue – he was tattooed to the max – “Stormtroopers” down one arm, full-face moko, looked quite confronting, the kind of guy not many people would go up to and begin a conversation with.
“He was here for a food parcel, and the fact that I engaged with him, beyond only giving him food obviously registered with him. The fact I knew the implications of his past gang connections was also a plus.
“He came back and said, ‘hey, I need some help.’ Not a problem. On questioning him it turned out that his major problem was with money – he simply wasn’t managing his finances.
“Got him signed up with our budgeting service and he’s been working away with them to the point where he’s now paid off all his debts, he’s bought a car and now he’s got a job.
“He jokes with me that he’s got a job but says it’s only part-time when it’s actually six days a week! He’s a worker that boy.”
“When we track back and investigate it was as simple as saying hello to the guy and engaging with him in the spirit of the Whanau centre – not just giving him a bag of groceries and sending him on his way.