Mangere is chocka with humble people quietly helping others who need it. This issue’s Local Hero is Toni Helleur, of I AM Māngere, an awesome organisation that helps the helpers, boosting their impact in the community.
Toni Helleur has always been a carer and connector. If you could sum up her career in a few words, it would be ‘helping people get to a better place’. More than 20 years ago she set up a massage therapy business to care for stressed and injured people in the corporate world. And while she still owns both the massage business, and a natural health clinic she founded later, her everyday work and true passion is in her beloved hometown, Mangere, where she supports many of the groups doing incredible community work with those who need it most.
“It’s been an interesting path to what I’m currently doing, but in some way it all makes sense. I kind of just end up rolling into things that cross my path and that evolution has ended up here,” says Toni.
“I love what I do with I AM Māngere. There are so many incredible community champions doing the mahi (work) every day. I love being able to connect them to the right resources and give them support to be able to help even more people. Sometimes it’s just about assisting a group to apply for funding, or connecting them with another organisation who might have the missing piece to their particular puzzle. It’s not always complicated, it’s just about knowing who does what in the community.”
Toni’s entry into community work came through Mangere Connect, a Neighbourhood Support platform. Her role was area coordinator, which involved helping people join Neighbourhood Support and promoting safer communities. In 2017 she took a role that centred around helping both the homeless and youth of Mangere, and this led on to her current position as Community Connector for I AM Māngere. Toni says she has been hooked on community work ever since she took that initial role with Mangere Connect.
“I really enjoyed it right from the start. My approach was always to sit with our homeless, vagrants and youth - instead of calling the police - and find out what they needed and help make a plan by finding the right services. Many just needed advocates to get physical or mental help but didn’t necessarily have the capability to do that themselves. We also did things like shutting down the town centre until midnight, providing dinner, basketball with a DJ playing in the background to give our youth something to do that they really enjoyed. It was absolutely the beginnings of what I do now.”
In organising these community events, Toni noticed something interesting. “It wasn’t always the bigger organisations putting in the work to make things happen. In fact more often than not it was the small churches and community groups. It was clear that if we could connect these groups in some way it could be really powerful - less doubling up, and a sharing of resources.” And so I AM Māngere was born - a community trust to support local champions and groups. A way to help the helpers do more.
I AM Māngere has had plenty to do during Covid. Rather than holding fundraisers and community events it’s more about helping at the coalface with Covid response and resilience planning and delivering food parcels. “It’s absolute ‘on the ground’ stuff, essentially gap filling by meeting basic needs till social services can step in. We were blown away when we asked for volunteers to help us, and 90 people signed up, just like that.”
When times are tough it really does take a village mentality to make sure everyone is cared for. The power of all those helpers grows when those with similar goals can be connected. It’s people like Toni who make this happen and help amplify the immense goodwill and community spirit that already exists in special places like Mangere.
You can read more I AM Māngere about here.
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