March's Inspire featured Erana Severne, an inspiring Wahine and Operations Manager at the Wise Group, one of the biggest NGOs in New Zealand.
If you want to see the definition of inspirational work taking place in Hamilton, then you can't do any better than the amazing mahi of Erana Severne and the Wise Group.
From delivering over 450,000 meals in nine weeks when Covid hit – work that continues in 2023, and is seemingly more in-need than ever – to helping disadvantaged young people and new mothers to thrive, the attendees at this month's Inspire were in awe of the amazing impact and reach Erana's work is having in our city.
Erana previously worked for Te Puna Oranga Waikato DHB before returning to the Wise Group in early 2020.
When Covid hit a month after she started, she was given a wide remit to go out into the community and have a "tutu", joking that her boss "didn't know what she was getting herself into when she did it!" But many thousands of people in our community have benefited as a result of Erana's 'tutuing', including more than 130,000 people through Here to help u.
The Wise Group has mostly operated in the mental health space, but has branched out into employment, housing, training, community-based support services and more. Erana leads the Here to help u 'kaupapa' (project) which was stood up at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. She is also involved in setting up Tirohanga, a community wellbeing space in Glenview, as well as a youth empowerment and development programme, Beta Build, in Hamilton East.
Erana explained how "young people have some really strong views around mental health that is way different than what it used to be," and talked about a rise in cutting, bulimia and the pressures of social media that they were seeing the consequences of.
This youth programme is an incredibly valuable service, as Erana shared stories of students waiting six weeks to see a councillor in their school.
Tirohanga is delivered in partnership with Momentum Waikato and includes a space for new mothers to relax and "fill their cup." Erana explained "we know that if our mums are well, our families and children will be also. There's lots of research backing up the importance of the first 1,000 days," so Tirohanga will be recording the difference that is made in the early days after a birth.
Here to help u is a kaupapa that really shows the impact Erana and the Wise Group's work is having. She explains it was an initiative that came about because the community asked them to, rather than "a contract from Wellington." Over 130,000 people have now been helped.
One of the first things they did was map the ecosystem of community providers, but found that over 70% were not in operation or in limited operation. And in the food space, many providers were powered by volunteers who were over the age of 70 which meant they couldn't function during Covid.
Erana explained how the need for help increased 400-500% when Covid hit, so nobody was ready for this change. Here to help u mapped the entire network of providers to coordinate between those that needed help and those that could deliver it, getting stood up in the first 2 weeks of Covid. They went from working with 16 providers to 270, meaning those in need only had one contact point with Here to help u rather than having to 'shop around' and being rejected multiple times.
Hamilton City Council, Claudelands and Montana were important partners during this time Erana said, which allowed them to distribute 457,000 meals in nine weeks.
Due to the cost of living crisis, this demand hasn't gone away however Erana explained. "After the first Covid outbreak, we thought we've done our job, but the community had other ideas. We're in the Bay of Plenty and are getting calls from different areas to roll this out."
"The demand through Here to help u is four-times what it was last year, and we're seeing people who have never needed help before coming through, people with two working members in the 'whare' who have almost nothing left, we're seeing mental health needs go up."
Erana warns that the infrastructure to offer these services hasn't increased by four-times since last year, and asks where the resource to go into the providers will come from, and the rest and recovery for those on the ground doing the 'mahi'.
Inspire brings a new inspirational speaker each month to share their story and connect like-minded people. The event is open to to non-members to attend for free – register for the next event on our website.