Housing families helps rebuild new lives

18 May 2023 | Articles

A woman standing and smiling beside a colourful mosaic wall

I've worked in corporate settings, but my heart is in the grassroots community,’ says Lesley Farmer, passionate volunteer and Community Liaison at De Paul House in Northcote.

De Paul House provides housing and support services for our community’s most vulnerable, focusing on families with dependent children – helping them move from transitional housing to stable homes. The impressive wraparound services include a pre-school centre, adult learning, and support in applying for jobs. In addition to the housing and services at their Onewa Road base, they also manage emergency and traditional housing around other parts of the North Shore and Warkworth.

Lesley was inspired by her mother, who came straight from England after World War II; a centenarian who always has time for people and is an encourager of people. ‘I feel I have got her heart, because I have an absolute love for people.’

Lesley began actively volunteering after she got married and was raising children in a rural area. She joined her local Plunket committee, where she used her skills to focus on fundraising, followed by joining PlayCentre, the parent-led early childhood centres. She learned to run committees effectively, gained skills in many fundamental roles, and learned to manage volunteers.

She praises Volunteering Auckland as a wonderful conduit for creating opportunities for people to connect with and contribute to their communities – forging new friendships, learning new skills, and being part of initiatives that play an important role in building thriving communities. Lesley noted that finding opportunities through Volunteering Auckland is particularly valuable to new New Zealanders – giving them a sense of belonging in their new home, and the opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds.

After a career in the corporate world, Lesley felt the time was right for a change to the charity sector – and De Paul House was the perfect fit.

She began her volunteering there in 2009 and in the 14 years since, has cheerfully done whatever needed doing – from sorting donated second-hand items, to taking the many incoming phone calls, to general administration.

Lesley’s key role is managing De Paul House’s contingent of dedicated volunteers, who come in every week and help out all year around.

Their band of volunteers include women in their 70s and 80s – all of whom are extremely active, articulate, and educated women. ‘They inspire me – and I adore them,’ she says.

Lesley’s wealth of experience tells her that the contribution of their volunteers make a significant difference at De Paul House, enabling them to provide services and support that other transitional facilities cannot.

Demand for transitional housing far outstrips supply. ‘Sadly, it's been a boom industry because there's so much homelessness,’ Lesley said.

De Paul House are also hugely thankful for the help of corporate teams who they’ve been connected with by Volunteering Auckland.

Lesley says the time spent at De Paul House is often a real eye-opener for corporate volunteers, who are often unaware of the complex and inter-related issues which can lead to families becoming homeless. She says she’s often had volunteers tell her they’d had some pretty stereotypical beliefs and prejudices about the homeless – and that even their brief time at De Paul House had given them a new perspective.

‘It’s great to see them so open to changing their way of thinking. Most of these people are hardworking Kiwi families who are not adequately housed,’ Lesley says.

‘The North Shore is known as one of Auckland’s wealthier areas – but there is poverty and hardship here, and not many people are aware of it."

Lesley is astounded by their community's generosity, which enables De Paul House to go the extra mile for the families they work with. ‘We gave Christmas vouchers to every family who has been with us for the last year – $30 for kids and $50 for adults. This gives them the dignity of choice, as their parents can select gifts for their children as well as vouchers for them to spend.’

The De Paul House philosophy recognises that housing isn’t just about providing a building that people live in – it’s about providing a complete set of building blocks that empower those people to have full lives.

As someone said at the recent opening of 10 new De Paul House family units in Northcote:

"Having somewhere to go is home; Having someone to love is family; And having both is a blessing."

Volunteering brings people from all walks of life together, allowing them to get to know one another and form friendships and experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives. If you want to experience volunteering, check out these opportunities.

Written by: Tanusha Shakti, Volunteer storywriter at Volunteering Auckland.
Photo by: Ruth Jackson, Media Marketing Coordinator, Volunteering Auckland

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