Local Hero award for dedicated tutor

Last updated 05:00 27/11/2012
Raven O’Donnell will receive a Local Hero award
JOHN NICHOLSON/Fairfax NZ
FOCUS ON AT-RISK GROUP: Raven O’Donnell will receive a Local Hero award as part of the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards.

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A commitment to educating Wellington's most at-risk young adults has seen Raven O'Donnell named a local hero for his devotion beyond the call of duty.

The 25-year-old tutor was one of 14 Wellington citizens honoured last night for their community input and presented with a Local Hero medal. They will go on to be in contention for the 2013 New Zealander of the Year awards in February.

Mr O'Donnell, an artist, started with the Willis St YMCA education centre for people aged 18 to 24 two years ago, mentoring students expelled from school to achieve NCEA Level 1 and 2. He had never taught before, but found the job a perfect fit, he said. "I'll be here 50 years."

It was incredibly rewarding when one of his 36 students gained their NCEA qualifications, and realised the doors to university or polytech were now open to them. "You just go home feeling rapt."

When he first heard he had won a Local Hero award, Mr O'Donnell thought someone was "pulling my leg".

"Then, I guess, I just felt a lot of pride - and that I must be doing something right."

Centre education manager Lisa Phillips, a Local Hero award-winner herself, was the one who nominated her colleague.

"He's just so committed . . . and I'd just love to try and recognise him for that commitment."

She said Mr O'Donnell was a strong supporter of the holistic approach the YMCA took with educating its students, even using his own money to fund their breakfast programme.

Mr O'Donnell said ensuring students were well fed, healthy and had a roof over their heads was the first step in their education.

"We try to deal with them holistically because, without a full stomach, they're not going to learn well and, without somewhere to sleep, they're not going to come here and be active."

He has also set up a scholarship fund to send students to Outward Bound courses.

Nearly 180 Local Heroes will be honoured at regional ceremonies across New Zealand in the next few weeks. A national Local Hero of the Year will then be announced at the New Zealander of the Year awards gala ceremony in February.

LOCAL LEGENDS

RICHARD HAWKE

A Karori Scout and Venturer leader, Mr Hawke has been teaching young people about the outdoors for more than 12 years.

BETTY AND PETER HODGINS For the past 30 years, the couple have been delivering meals to the elderly. They have also been major contributors to the Lower Hutt Food Bank and the KickStart breakfast programme at St Michael's Primary School in Taita.

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SCOTT MACKENZIE

The Wainuiomata volunteer set up a charitable karate academy in 2010 to provide students with not just physical training, but also lessons in self-discipline, team-building and moral principles.

REX MANNING

Mr Manning's lifetime dedication to the sport of hockey has seen him play a vital role in the operation and upkeep of the National Hockey Stadium and other hockey facilities in the Wellington region.

MELISSA MOON

The two-time world mountain running champion is also a passionate fundraiser for the Wellington Children's Hospital, and has been involved with several campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles.

IAIN POTTER

The first chief executive of the Health Sponsorship Council, Mr Potter worked for more than 20 years to reduce the social and health harm of tobacco. As part of this work, he established a smoking cessation programme that has since become the national Quitline scheme.

CAROLYN PRESS-MCKENZIE

Runs an animal sanctuary in Pakuratahi, near Upper Hutt, for injured, neglected and abused domestic animals and wildlife. She was also a key figure in finding new homes for displaced animals after the Christchurch earthquake.

DES SMITH

A gay rights advocate and dedicated conservationist, Mr Smith co-ordinated the native forest restoration of Bell's Track in Ngaio and volunteered as a guide at the Zealandia Karori sanctuary for many years.

WILLY SZETO

In his 16-year involvement with athletics as a volunteer at the club, regional and national levels, Mr Szeto has coached athletes, officiated for numerous events, and run the Karori Athletics Club.

VICTORIA TAYLOR

In September, the 19-year-old former Hutt Valley High School student ran the length of New Zealand to raise money for the Child Cancer Foundation, in memory of 3-year-old Chace Topperwien, who died from a rare form of cancer.

ALISON VAUTIER

The Waikanae resident has volunteered for almost 50 years at a number of organisations, and also established the Cameo centre for locals to meet and attend outings together.

DAVE WILLS

A Silverstream volunteer firefighter, Mr Wills is also a dedicated supporter of the Leukaemia & Blood Cancer charity. He raised $15,000 for the organisation over the past few years by climbing the Auckland Sky Tower in 25 kilograms of firefighting gear.

- The Dominion Post

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