“A highlight for me has been spending quality time with MY KIDS doing awesome things... it brings us closer together.”
Dee has a full life; juggling three kids as a solo mother and two part-time jobs as a nurse is incredibly rewarding but with it comes a lot of responsibility, she admits.
Which is why she feels a strong sense of gratitude when Birthright contacts her. Whether it is a call offering a food parcel for the evening’s meal or some new clothing, or an email with family vouchers to attend the circus or go bowling, Dee is “so very grateful for them always checking in with me”.
“The kids love the trips and it’s such a highlight for me being able to spend quality time with them doing awesome things. It gets us out of the house and it brings us closer together,” she says.
A recent Waka Ama Day for Birthright families in Lyttelton Harbour was something Dee had never done before but she “jumped in and had a turn”. It was also a day when she cemented a friendship with another parent, Laura. This is important to Dee, given that she comes from out of town.
Dee and her kids (now 13, 9 and 7 years of age) have enjoyed the support of Birthright for many years now, both in Manawatū-Whanganui and in Canterbury.
“They have been there for me right from the start, before I was a registered nurse and when I was sorting family matters, supporting me the whole time. I love how consistent they are, no matter where you are!” She credits Birthright social worker, Gloria for helping her to keep focused during her studies.
“There were times when I wanted to give up – it was really hard, I was exhausted. Gloria made me realise all my achievements and told me not to underestimate myself. It’s times like that you really need support,” Dee remembers.
“I’ve worked hard to give my kids the life I never had. Gloria has been my saviour because she stopped me from giving up.”
Over the years, the children have also benefited from the assistance offered to families at Christmas.
“As we know our kids best, we are able to choose presents we know they will like. It’s awesome stuff too, and I make sure that my kids know the presents come from Birthright. It takes a big burden off my shoulders.”
An advocate by nature, Dee reflects on how Birthright has stood out to her.
“I have never had to fight for their support – once I signed up, they came to me with opportunities and contacted me to make sure I was ok. They are the only consistent service I have encountered on my whole journey. I’d love to see Birthright get more funding,” Dee says.
“To me, coming together is the main thing Birthright brings. They encourage community.”
Melissa is at the park with her 7-year-old son on a warm and sunny day – having just switched their bedrooms around to mix things up a bit at home, they’re after some fresh air. She discusses upcoming plans which include continuing with her Level 4 Hospitality course and a positive new learning programme her son will soon start.
Things aren’t always rosy as the solo mother of an autistic child though. Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, Melissa found out about Birthright. At the time she was finding it hard to get out, so a Social Worker came around and discussed strategies for coping with him on difficult days. That’s when one of Birthright’s social worker into their lives.
“It was one thing talking about strategy, but sometimes I thought I was doing it wrong so she gave me extra support – showing me how it was done.”
Having regular home visits and ringing every week for the last few years has seen my social worker play “a big role in our lives”.
“She has been awesome and definitely a person I can lean on.”
The Social Worker linked Melissa up with Autism New Zealand and went with her on Ministry of Social Development visits, “asking questions on my behalf and being a voice for me”, to make sure the family was able to access any financial entitlements.
Her social worker also encouraged the naturally shy mum to join in on Birthright’s coffee dates and parent groups when she wasn’t studying.
“To me, coming together is the main thing Birthright brings. They encourage community.”
During the COVID-19 Lockdown, when solo parents risked feeling lonelier than ever, the group had coffee dates via Zoom video which were “very welcome” says Melissa.
Christmas is another time when the charity's light shines bright in the lives of people like Melissa and her boy. Though they have family in Christchurch, the festive period can be a “weird time” admits Melissa, so it is “good to know people are out there who are in the same situation”. A personal highlight was learning how to make origami crafts at the last Birthright Christmas party.
Emotional and practical assistance go hand in hand at Birthright. Melissa says that one of the biggest benefits she has noticed is how her confidence has grown as a parent. This resilience has been hard-won at times, particularly when Melissa went through a custody battle and had a heart attack. Unsurprisingly, her Birthright social worker was a support throughout.
“She has been there for me every step of the way – providing moral support during legal proceedings and organising practical support such as Meals on Wheels when I was recovering from the operation last year. She has helped me big time.”
Social Worker’s encouragement changed the course of her life
If it wasn’t for Birthright and the help of her social worker, Amanda’s life would look very different.
When her daughter was 18 months old and her son was six, Amanda and her partner separated. With no family in Christchurch and having developed a close relationship with her partner’s family, Amanda felt she had no support system after the separation.
Life became stressful and busy. Working as an ‘un-skilled’ child care worker meant that bringing in enough money became a stress, especially during school holidays. Amanda was not enjoying her role and did not want to continue going through life working in a job to merely get by.
Then, at a local swimming pool in 2013, Amanda was chatting to a woman who was enrolled with Birthright Canterbury. From there, she decided to reach out to Birthright herself and immediately found the support she needed through her social worker.
Her social worker suggested that Amanda go to Ara Institute of Canterbury and do their career’s quiz. From there, her Social worker referred Amanda to Dress for Success: an organisation that helps women write their CV’s and find an outfit suitable for an interview. All of this gave Amanda the encouragement she needed to enrol in a one-year Certificate in Digital Design, which she completed last year.
“My Social worker is fantastic. She is very proactive. She was the stepping stone I needed because this course was out of my comfort zone and without her I would have never done it”.
Birthright’s school holiday activities were also an immense help for Amanda. She was able to send her son to a three-day boy’s camp at which he did an array of activities that Amanda would not have been able to afford on her own. This allowed Amanda to spend quality time with her daughter too.
Amanda believes that Birthright has changed the course of her life and she knows that if she ever needs help Birthright is only a phone call away.
“It’s not just about kids having clothes, it isn’t surface level, it goes so much deeper. Their support is invaluable, especially if you don’t have a support structure around you”.
Andrew Wilson, Manager of the Heartland Bank in Ashburton, has been more than willing to carry on the Bank’s association with Birthright Ashburton, which predates his role there by more than 13 years.
Heartland Bank’s main form of support for Birthright Ashburton is through its annual Christmas Birthright Tree, which Andrew says is “an institution for us here at Heartland.”
“If the tree is not up in early December people come in and ask when it is going to be put up, as they are ready with gifts to pop under it.”
Andrew says that he is happy to be able to carry on the tradition. “It is something small we can do for families that need support in our Mid Canterbury community.”
The Christmas Tree is located in the Heartland Bank building on Ashburton’s main street.
A few days before Christmas, the gifts under it are collected and then distributed around families that Birthright works with.
“My social worker has become like family”
Life can be stressful and busy for Dan, a single father of two young daughters. In 2015, Dan went searching for extra support, knowing that it might be hard to find. Luckily, someone he knew mentioned Birthright Canterbury and he quickly got in touch.
Because of Birthright and the support of his social worker, Dan has found life a whole lot easier. Usually, Dan would not have the finances to enable his daughters to participate in community events and holiday activities such as going to the movies. But, with the help of Birthright, he has been able to give his daughters those experiences and memories.
“The little things help more than people may realise. Whether it’s being given clothing, cooking lessons, health care packages, or my girls receiving birthday and Christmas gifts, Birthright has been there for me, which has taken a lot of stress off my shoulders.”
Now, Dan cannot imagine what life would be like without his social worker. “She’s always been there for me. Giving me ideas and helping me to move forward with my job and motivating me to study. I would be lost without her.”
Going forward, Dan feels as though he has the support when and where he needs it. He knows that he can always call his social worker.
“My social worker’s door is always open and dropping in to visit her whenever I need feels like visiting an aunt.”
“I just want to say a big thank you to Birthright from me and my girls. The help and support are appreciated more than you know. I have no words to describe what Birthright has done for me.”
birthright provided genuine support in a time it was needed
Emily had left her friends and family in Christchurch to move to Ashburton with her partner, but when they later split up, she felt lonely and unsure of where to turn for support. She did not have a car which made it difficult for her to get out and meet new people. A friendly community police woman mentioned Birthright Canterbury saying that it might be just what Emily needed.
Emily contacted Birthright and has never looked back. Her social worker has had a large impact on her life, encouraging her and enabling her to build confidence in her new town, where she was finding it hard to make new friends.
“What I really appreciate is that my social worker has never judged me. She always listens and is very understanding. She has given me pointers on what to do next but has never put pressure on me to choose what I want to do.”
Emily is immensely proud of her eleven-year-old son, James, and is very grateful for all the ways in which Birthright’s aid has enabled her to provide him with what he needs.
“Christmas and birthdays can be really stressful times for me, but I know I can always rely on Birthright to show up with presents. For James’ fifth birthday they even made a cake for him, which he loved.”
James is a well-behaved child but he struggles in school academically. Knowing this, Emily’s social worker gave her ideas on how to help him herself and also organised maths and English tutoring for him, which was financed by Birthright. Emily’s social worker also told her about Variety Sponsorship which she is very grateful for.
“Buying school uniforms and stationery is a challenge, especially as I don’t know what James will need until around Christmas. So, to have sponsorship that can finance those items is a huge weight off my shoulders”.
Emily continues to look forward to her social worker’s monthly visits knowing she will always be a listening ear and offer her advice without any pressure.
“It is nice to know that there is someone there that I can call at any time and I won’t ever be a burden to them.”
Julia ashmore-smith’s Story
Financially Supporting Birthright
Julia Ashmore-Smith has been a financial supporter of Birthright Canterbury since August 2015. Being a single mother herself, Julia knows that times can get tough and life can become lonely. She also knows how important it is to have a support system and feel like people have your back.
Since 2011, Julia has worked as a real estate agent for Bayleys in Canterbury. It was through real estate that she first met Birthright Canterbury’s Manager, Rhodora Sagles, and discovered what Birthright does for families. Julia felt a connection with Birthright due to her own experiences and challenges and felt compelled to get involved in some way. For three years now, Julia has had an automatic system set up, from which she donates finances to Birthright Canterbury from every property sale she makes.
Julia says the key reason she began supporting Birthright was because they do not just provide their clients handouts and material objects. Rather, their focus is value based.
“I appreciate that the social workers build upon the capabilities that already exist within the families and focus on growing their skill base, so they are able to have confidence moving forward.”
When thinking about Birthright, Julia finds herself being reminded of the well-known Chinese proverb, “give a man a fish and he’ll be fed for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll be fed for a lifetime”. This is because Birthright gives practical and tangible assistance to families that need it.
“Birthright Canterbury provides single parents the validation they need to know they can get through the difficult time they are in and that they are worth someone spending time and money on them”
Julia does not want to be a ‘face of Birthright’ and therefore chooses to step back and donate knowing that her donations are being used appropriately and to build families up.
“I can give money, but I also like that I can be a networker and provide access for others to get support. It’s great to be part of something that truly is making a difference.”
“I've been at Birthright for three years but this year I really needed them”
Tina was battling a number of issues as a sole parent, when she enrolled with Birthright Canterbury in 2015. She credits her social worker and the rest of the Birthright team with helping her get through them and showing her a brighter future.
Having struggled with depression, it is important for Tina to keep busy and stay positive. Her first Birthright worker, helped her with this. Tina told her field worker that she really needed a rest and for someone to take care of her nine-year-old son, for a short time. Tina was not in regular contact with her family and struggled to find a babysitter. By the time she talked to her field worker, she hadn’t had any time to herself for 12 months. Her field worker referred Tina to Cholmondeley Children’s Centre where her son now stays regularly and always looks forward to the next visit. This allows Tina to have time to relax and stay mentally well.
Tina has also found attending Birthright’s parent groups ‘really encouraging’. Participating in Zumba, making sushi and going fruit picking are just a few of the activities from which Tina has been able to build friendships. She keeps in touch with many of the women she has met and makes the effort to see them outside of Birthright activities.
“With Birthright, you get more than a social worker, you get a full support system”.
However, at the beginning of 2018 Tina hit a rough patch and found herself struggling with her mental health. Her current social worker, immediately noticed something was wrong and ask Tina if she needed help.
“My social worker doesn’t tell you what to do. She guides you and asks the right questions to help you make your own decisions”.
Her social worker set Tina up with the Kingdom Resources’ course ‘Taking the First Step’ which is a confidence building, pre-employment course for women. Tina now plans to enrol in Ara’s Health and Wellbeing certificate in 2019.
“I wanted to have my head in the right space, but my social worker told me it’s time to put myself first so that’s why I’m doing this now. Sometimes I have ideas in my head and I just need someone else to voice them and encourage me to take action”.
Because of her experience with Birthright, Tina now wants a career in social work herself. She feels confident telling people what she has learnt from Birthright and has even passed on the organisation’s number on to other mothers.
“I’m like a Birthright advocate now”.
“birthright has given me the support i was looking for”
Phoebe went in search of support when she and her partner separated in mid-2017. She had moved to a new house with her son David, who was just five months old at the time, and wanted to connect with other people who had gone through the same experience she was going through.
When scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, Phoebe saw that someone had posted about Birthright Canterbury. From there she went to Birthright’s website and decided to make contact as she thought it would be the perfect place to find support.
Phoebe will always be grateful that she stumbled upon that Facebook post as she immediately found the support she was looking for in her social worker, who she says has “inspired her a lot.”
“My social worker is someone I can just talk to. She gives me advice and has encouraged me to explore my own interests and widen my vision of what the future holds.”
“I’ve been able to build up confidence having met people who have gone through the same experiences as me and are making it work.”
Birthright Canterbury has not only given Phoebe the support to gain her confidence back, but she has also received material support through the likes of clothing and toys for David, who is now 2 years old. She has also enjoyed being able to attend parent groups and other activities organised by Birthright such as a trip to Inflatable World and an annual Summer Camp at Spencer Park.
“I can find it hard and stressful to organise catch ups with people, so it has been really good to get involved in the events that Birthright put on.”
“In just a few words, I would say that the Birthright team are welcoming, generous and have enabled me to have a more positive outlook on life.”