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Vocational Support Service

Vocational support specialists

Vocational Support Service
Karina Whitelaw (left) and Karyn Hill of the Vocational Support Service at Tui Ora.

The Vocational Support Service (VSS) at Tui Ora has all the bases covered.

Between them, the four staff bring experience in rehabilitation, counselling, HR/recruitment and mental health support work to their roles.

Karyn Hill and Karina Whitelaw are the newest members of the team, joining existing staff Renee Norman and Diane Riddick.

The varied skills and strengths of the VSS means the support provided to tangata whai ora is comprehensive, empathetic and practical.

Karyn and Karina started work at Tui Ora on September 3. Karyn has completed a Bachelor of Counselling at WinTech in Hamilton having worked for many years in the disability sector as a support worker. Her study helped ensure she is qualified in an area she has long been passionate about. Her interest is working with adults dealing with trauma.

The job at Tui Ora appealed because she could put into practice the skills she learnt in her training, as well as help others.

New Plymouth was the city in which she spent her teenage years, but after 30 years away raising two girls she's moved back home to be closer to her parents who are having a new lease of life at Summerset rest home.

Karina's different background makes her a welcome addition to the team. Passionate about the link between physical and mental wellbeing, she has trained in health, fitness and yoga. Not only that, she worked for a number of years in the recruitment industry.

She began her working life in Auckland for a PHO (primary health organisation) in front and back office roles, moved to a position with a Māori health provider where she helped organise events for tangata whai ora, and then relocated to Australia.

Across the ditch Karina worked in HR and recruitment which she really enjoyed, before embarking on further overseas travel. This included a stint studying yoga in India for a few months.

"That pushed me forward in my interest, in my knowledge of health and in wanting to help others."

She returned to New Zealand last year and while looking around for somewhere to live settled on New Plymouth because of its "laid back lifestyle."

While the VSS team works in different geographical areas, their complimentary interests and backgrounds mean they allocate referrals based on an individual's need.

They focus on the different stages of a person's entry to work: Pre-vocation, vocational and post placement.

Increasingly, they are aware that the traditional 40-hour a week job doesn't often suit tangata whai ora, so they are exploring options and using opportunities presented by new technology.

This includes encouraging people to set up stalls at markets where they could sell seedlings raised from seed, homemade craft, fresh juices, repurposed clothing, beeswax wraps. Or other options such as online trading, small business ventures and musical performances.

The VSS team supports this self-generated enterprise by providing advice on tax obligations, recording of income and expenditure, and other small business/self-employed information.

Possibilities also arise out of volunteering and work experience. 

"They help tangata whai ora establish new routines; encourage them to get up and get out at a certain time and, in some cases, do physical work such as take part in working bees at places like Pukeiti and Tupare," says Karyn.

Agrees Karina: "It's not all about paid employment. Sometimes it's about establishing a relationship or building confidence, motivation and communication skills."

And once people have secured paid employment the support doesn't necessarily stop. The service will work with an employer and employee on a supported work plan to ensure there's a collaborative approach benefiting everyone.

Often tangata whaiora don't know how to get from point A to point B; visual tools and mapping exercises help bridge this gap and identify road blocks along the way.

The service emphasises its role is one of doing it with not for people – and that it's a journey.

"Our role is to facilitate a person with their vocational goals. It's not about what we or whānau believe they should be doing but what they want to do, tapping into passions and hobbies and giving them the means to move from one point to the next, "says Karyn.

*The other members of the VSS are Renee Norman and Diane Riddick (pictured below, who works in South Taranaki).

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