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Public servant shines in National Volunteer Week

Public servant shines in National Volunteer Week

  • 26 Jun 2023
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Sacrifice and service come naturally to Lēo'o Jenny Taotua-O’Carroll (pictured), who has received a Porirua Civic Award for volunteering with Pacific youth for 25 years at a recent ceremony.   

The Porirua Civic Awards were held as part of National Volunteer Week 2023, which recognises the critical role, value and diverse contributions of volunteers in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Focused on the Te Wiki Tūao ā-Motu – He wā pīataata - Time to shine, the week is the ideal way to recognise the efforts of extraordinary volunteers who contribute in so many ways to Aotearoa. 

When she is not working in her role as a Senior Advisor for the Languages, Engagement and Operations team at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Lēo’o shines her light and pours energy into volunteering in her hometown of Porirua. 

Of Samoan and Tongan descent, Lēo’o says she volunteers in her community by her own free will, because she loves her community and its people.   

While much of her volunteer work is with Pacific youth, Lēo’o dons many different volunteer hats. 

“I was a founding member of the Porirua Youth Council…I have worked with youth at risk, and supported Victoria University of Wellington Māori and Pasifika students towards their academic journey of success for the past 10 years.” 

Lēo’o also sits on the MAFANA Youth Development Network steering Komiti in Porirua, which is currently working on a Pasifika Youth Report, looking at what our community can do to better improve the lives of Pacific youth in Porirua. 

She is also part of P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A Inc. Women’s Network Whitireia Branch in Porirua, which she joined recently after three years with the Wellington Central Branch Executive.   

“A lot of the voluntary work we do is organising events that benefit our women of all ages, running workshops to promote career pathways for young people, health and wellbeing, leadership as well as promoting Pacific Language Weeks and bringing women together to discuss sensitive issues or topics that address the inequalities and how we can combat and work together to shed light and come with solutions. 

“We still have a lot of our original living legend members who are our mentors in this space and we continue to learn and be inspired by them and from all the amazing work they have done and continue to do to amplify Pacific women’s rights and voices,” she adds. 

A founding member of the Porirua Multicultural Council (PMC), Lēo’o is currently the sitting interim president – she is usually vice-president. 

Growing up in Porirua in the 1980s, Lēo’o says she met many people who were part of refugee migrant groups from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, and much of the volunteer work she does for PMC is supporting migrants and former refugees to settle in the Porirua region, by ensuring they are aware of services available to them. 

“I was fortunate to make lifelong friends representing these communities and I gained a lot of insight and wisdom from my friends who migrated to New Zealand as former refugees. 

“I heard of the struggles they faced coming from war torn countries and the struggles they faced coming to Aotearoa. 

“The migrant community hold a special place in my heart and my work in PMC along with other strong and resilient community leaders I work have been able to create this platform for our migrant communities to feel like their voice is being heard and they are well informed of the support available to them.” 

Motivated by three key things to do volunteer work, Lēo’o says her parents are the number one factor. 

“My parents have always encouraged us to help people and if we see someone in need go out there and support them. 

“My mother has always opened her home to foster children, so I always saw so much kindness from her and the way she raised us all the same. 

Secondly, young people are a driving factor.

As a young person I always saw some of my friends struggle a lot with mental health issues, in those days there were not a lot  of services promoted for youth, we relied on each other to get through the tough times. 

“Young people are very resilient people, I wanted to use my experiences to help young people whether it be to help motivate them towards excelling in school or just being an ear to listen to what they are going through.” 

And thirdly, Lēo’o says her faith in God is at the core of all she does, while keeping her grounded and focused on her purpose in life. 

Volunteering is a two-way street, and Lēo’o says she gains so much from her work – but most importantly is knowing she is giving 110 percent to helping where she can. 

Meanwhile, the Best Practice Guidelines for Volunteering, developed by Volunteering New Zealand with support from the Government, and several non-governmental organisations, has been launched during National Volunteer Week. 

The guidelines aim to help community organisations better support their volunteer workforce. 

Visit the Volunteering NZ website for more information.