As you walk towards St Matthew’s Church Hall in Masterton, you’ll see mobility scooters lined up, and sometimes a bicycle or two. This is where the Wairarapa Care Network (WCN) operates their Day Programme service.

Programme members and their families come here to participate in the activities organised by passionate staff and volunteers. They are open to the elderly and those with a disability who are remaining in their own homes or being cared for at home. There is a familial atmosphere – a warmth.

Elaine Leggott, Manager of WCN and her staff work hard to provide interesting and stimulating activities for the members. The Day Programme also provides families and carers with some much needed respite.

Elaine shares, “the activities are varied. We have musical entertainers, guest speakers, we even organised an 80s disco dance.”

“On the last Thursday of every month we put on morning tea on for the carers.  It’s our way of trying to look after them and it’s also a meeting place where they can talk about their challenges and if they need extra help, we can put them on the right track to getting support.”

Melissa Hunt

Amid the daily bustle is Melissa Hunt, one of WCN’s Recreational Officers. Melissa started working in the kitchen, doing the dishes and the food preparation for the lunch service. She recalls, “I’d always glance out the kitchen window into the hall where the fun takes place and I dreamt that maybe one day I could be out there with the clients, taking care of them.”

Melissa was a stay at home mum of two for a long time. Now that her kids have grown and off to school, she found herself wanting to work but realised she no longer had many sought-after skills for the modern world. WCN management saw her willingness to do more, and her interest to take on board new skills, and offered her the opportunity to work more closely with the clients. Melissa shares her joy, “I’m pleased to be working in the hall, learning, and providing beautiful days for our clients and making sure their needs are met.”

“I’ve become so passionate about our job at WCN that it doesn’t even feel like work,” she adds.

Two years into this new career pathway, Melissa is celebrating a milestone – she has just completed a health and wellbeing qualification on-the-job with the support of industry training organisation, Careerforce. She considers this a great achievement having not done any formal study for over 15 years.

“I was a bit nervous when I was asked to study. I wasn’t sure I would be able to fit it in with a hectic family life. But I juggled a few things around and made it work.”

There are workforce shortages across the health and wellbeing sectors. Stay at home mums wanting to return to employment need not worry as there are so many opportunities, says Careerforce Workplace Advisor for Wairarapa, Jo Rea.

“They may think that they don’t have the skills for the job but in actual fact, they have years and years of experience that are transferable to this caring industry,” Jo says.

She says that like Melissa, there is an opportunity to learn on-the-job. “Once you are employed, we can support you and your workplace in upskilling you so you can achieve a national qualification and progress your career.”

Melissa strongly encourages others to step outside their comfort zone, go after that dream job and study on-the-job.

When asked about what’s next for her she says, “I’m going to keep reaching for the stars and take on the next qualification levels available. I am so proud of myself for getting this far that I’m ready and willing to keep learning and growing.”

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