Napier Family Centre: passion for change

Pictured: Napier Family Centre chief executive Kerry Henderson (left) and Budgeting manager Debbie Mackintosh

The reputation of Napier Family Centre precedes them, and their impact on the community is continuing to grow.

They were recently picked as a distributor for Napier as part of an initiative through The Period Place and The Warehouse to provide free period products and educational material to reduce period inequity.

For every sanitary product purchased at The Warehouse, the company will donate a pack to somebody in need and members of the public can also donate directly through to the Warehouse; these then get distributed to whānau in need by Napier Family Centre.

The KidsCan Youth 19 survey shows more than 21 percent of students in decile one schools had missed school due to a lack of menstrual products, with 14 percent missing more than a day a month.

Budgeting manager Debbie Mackintosh says being picked as part of the initiative is a tribute to their hard-earned reputation and reach in the community. Their first packs have already been sent out.

“We know it assists a lot of kids going to school,” says Debbie.

The centre is in the heart of Onekawa in Napier – one of the suburbs most in need in the region. It began in the early 1980s and budgeting became a key part of their services not long after inception.

Many different social services are housed in the centre making it a holistic one-stop shop for the community. The centre employs around 50 people and has around 30 volunteers assisting across its services.

Napier Family Centre receives contributing funding from Government for many of its social services including family services and social work, counselling and budgeting.

It also relies on the generosity, goodwill and donations from philanthropic funders, the local Charity Shop in Taradale and fundraising. The centre is governed by a volunteer board of local inter-church representatives and a few lawyers in there for good measure.

With a steadfast vision and a lot of dedication from staff and volunteers Napier Family Centre continues to grow and support people on their life’s journey.

The four financial mentors in the Financial Capability Services Team (and another one under supervision) are kept busy. A few different social services live under the same roof, which can help with their holistic approach to mentoring.

“Sometimes we can’t help them, but it’s good to be able to refer them across our services,” says Debbie.

Napier Family Centre see many of the same issues as other regions.

KiwiSaver hardship applications are on the up, and loan sharks are still having a terrible impact on the community (although this has eased somewhat with the recent changes in legislation).

Housing is also an issue many whānau battle with, but one of her biggest concerns is now Work and Income. She says they are now one of the biggest lenders in Hawkes Bay, at least.

Debbie says this has become “real worry” with some people slowly paying up to $30,000 worth of debt. This can be made up of paying back advances, fines or other debt. This can leave some with only $30 to $40 in their bank account each week for food.

“They’re not getting much left,” she says.

Debbie joined the building financial capability sector in the late 1990s and was mostly doing Summary Instalment Orders (SIOs) – now Debt Repayment Orders (DROs).

She is one of the two DRO supervisors in Napier and can be in high demand.

Her experience has led her to believe there is a need to raise the threshold for DROs – some people can only just be over the $50,000 limit.

Debbie says many of these people would still benefit from a DRO, instead of becoming insolvent.

Beyond building financial capability

Despite the challenges, the Napier Family Centre has a few different ways they help people who are facing financial hardship.

They work closely with other services in the region – from Wairoa to Waipukurau – to make sure the financial mentors can access the latest training available and ensure good relationships with local agencies across other NGOs, central and local government, iwi/hapū and local Taiwhenua.

The centre is a beneficiary of a charity shop in Taradale, which has been running for the last few years, also open to the public in the heart of Taradale.

Known for its high-quality clothes and bric-a-brac, the shop is always busy and is also a chance for volunteers to connect with each other and give back to the community.

The financial mentors can get items for their clients for free when they need it particularly if a new baby is on the way or someone needs a suit for a job interview. Debbie also volunteers there.

“It’s a great place, I just love it – I call it my happy place. It’s nice to talk to people. It’s a lovely atmosphere,” she says.

Debbie is also a volunteer trustee on the local Foodbank. This comes in handy as the Napier Family Centre provides food parcels twice a week and works closely with others in the region to ensure entitlements are right and there is access to food.

Twice a week they have ‘bread runners’ who collect the bread leftover from stores like New World, who then distribute it to those identified in the community who need it.

They’re also working closely with the Springhill Addiction Centre and at the local prison, to make sure they’re helping those who need.

Often, people in prison don’t have a bank account or the right identification to get a bank account which can make the transition back to world harder than it needs to be.

The service also runs an initiative each year called Christmas Cheer where they distribute presents to whānau who otherwise might not get any. Last year, they gave out 80 packs in Napier.

“We’re all just a team,” says Debbie.

And if team find there are some recurring issues in the community or something isn’t quite right, they’re quick to flag them with the Commerce Commission (ComCom) for further investigation.

“Everything we’re not happy with, we’re sending it straight to ComCom,” says Debbie.

“Some of them are being ripped off and it’s not always the clients that they’re in trouble.”

For example, there was an elderly woman who was guarantor for two of her relative’s vehicle loans. The cars were eventually written off, and the woman didn’t realise she was still liable for the loans.

“We’re really passionate to see our clients aren’t being taken advantage of, particularly those that are more vulnerable in our community,” says Debbie.

Making a difference

Despite some of the obstacles for the clients, there are many success stories the Napier Family Centre can share.

There was one case where a woman with three young children was repaying the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) back $25 per week – although it wasn’t clear what this was for.

Once the financial mentors got hold of IRD, they met with in person and after doing some calculations realised the debt was already paid. The women was then credited a small amount back,

“We were also able to give her Christmas Cheer for her children.  It was a lovely outcome,” says financial mentor Barbara Solomon.

There was another case where a woman still owed money on her auto loan after an insurance pay out left her short.

They only way to cover the shortfall was to use KiwiSaver hardship to cover the debt and purchase a new vehicle as it’s essential to help her get to work.

One the financial mentors asked the hardship team to review the application after adding this information, the decision was made in less than hour.

There is also the case where a man had to go on Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) following an epileptic fit which damaged his arm, but this meant his income didn’t cover all his expenses.

He was told he was entitled to any more help from Work and Income  as ACC was covering all his expenses.

The financial mentor was able to get him a supermarket voucher for immediate relief, and then was able to make an appointment with WINZ to sort out his entitlements.

He eventually got his benefits reinstated and back paid with the support of his financial mentor.

“He was so grateful, but really I just did my job,” says Barbara.

If you or your whānau need support, you can reach out on Napier Family Centre on 06 843 7280. If you’re outside the region, you can contact our MoneyTalks helpline team on 088 345 123.