Creating a community of volunteers
Mahara Lawson brings her culture’s guiding principle of manaakitanga to her role as Kairuku Pūtere/Volunteer and Projects Coordinator for the Auckland City Mission.
“Manaakitanga constantly reminds me to acknowledge the mana of others and to express its importance through aroha, support and mutual respect” says Mahara. “I respect the Mission volunteers so much. They're giving up their time and they deserve to be supported and valued in authentic ways.”
The Mission provides a wrap-around service to struggling people in Tamaki Makaurau. It helps people with food, housing, health and detox services and provides mental health support. After Covid and with current inflation, need levels are high. In 2019, before Covid, the Mission was distributing 450 food parcels a week. Today it is up to 2,000 per week.
A large volunteer force keeps the wheels turning and Mahara strives to engage and support them from the moment they apply for a position. “It's important they feel welcome from the get go” she says. “We have a process that gives them all the information to make informed decisions, inducts them properly and enables ongoing connection.”
Mahara knows about connection and engagement. Growing up in Whakatane as one of seven children, whanau and the marae were at the centre of her life. Connection with others was natural and ever present. Mahara followed her parent’s footsteps into a career in hospitality. “I reckon this shaped me in terms of really understanding authentic engagement. In hospitality you give and you give with respect.”
After 25 years in hospitality roles, the position advertised at the City Mission appealed to her giving nature. “I thought: I would love to work at the Mission. It’s such a big hearted place.” Four years later Mahara now oversees 500 volunteers made up of corporates, community groups and individuals.
“I love the role because it’s about creating a community and that’s what I enjoy doing.”
Long-time donor to the Mission Sue Emmott began volunteering at the Mission when the pandemic stymied her international career in aid. She started with helping with the Haeata daily breakfast service and then at Mahara's suggestion took a role in front of house at the Mission’s new HomeGround building.
"Mahara is the epitome of welcoming and appreciative and seems to be able to sense where each volunteer will be most comfortable and make the best contribution.”
Mahara’s giving doesn't stop when she walks out the Mission door. Then she becomes the perfect example of leading by example. With her family she volunteers for several community groups running sports programmes at her children's schools, helping with lifesaving and acting as Secretary at her marae. Community recognition for her ‘everywhere’ volunteering came when she was awarded an ASB Good as Gold Award last year for her selfless service to her community.
“My husband and I are serial volunteers. It truly floats our boats.”
In both her Mission role and in her personal life Mahara is committed to understanding her culture better and using this knowledge to better serve Maori needs and aspirations. “At the Mission I now work closely with the newly appointed GM of Maori. I’m proud of the mahi we are doing to become an organisation that is cognisant of Te Tiriti principles which acknowledge and respect Maori values.” Fluency in Te Reo Maori is next on her agenda.
The volunteer programme at the Auckland City Mission is already ahead of the game in terms of worldwide trends in volunteering. Mahara says “People are looking for flexibility in their volunteering, doing it when they can and having variety. They don’t want to feel trapped by their volunteering role. Our system enables this and the feedback has been very positive.”
Things continue to evolve at the Auckland City Mission. “We are looking at how we can engage more professionals in volunteering. We want to continuously nurture and enrich our volunteer pool.”
With manaakitanga and Mahara’s strong advocacy, the Auckland City Mission is assuredly building a thriving and fulfilled volunteer community.