Q&A with Jenny Naley (Sowers Trust manager)

For local not-for-profit charitable trust, Sowers Trust, ‘sowing seeds of hope’ is not only their tagline, but it’s what they truly aim to achieve within the East Auckland community.
Tackling the perceived stereotypes of a comfortable community, Sowers helps at-risk youth and people affected by family violence. Their goal is to empower, equip and mentor youth and families by building therapeutic relationships.

To meet increasing demand for its services, the Trust will host an auction on August 10, 2017, to raise funds for additional youth and social workers. Auckland tickets are $75 and can be obtained from The Picton Centre, 120 Picton St, Howick, phone 538 0050. In light of this much needed work, EastLife spoke to Sowers Trust manager, Jenny Naley, about her role.

As manager of Sowers Trust what training have you had and how relevant is it to what you are doing at the charity coalface, day to day?

I am a qualified social worker and registered with the Social Work Registration Board. Staff members, including myself, have internal and external conversations with another professional around the way we work to ensure we are following best practice guidelines. This ensures there is accountability and that we are all working in a way that is safe for others and for ourselves. I have on-going training which assists with both my social work and role as manager. Examples of other training is around appropriate supports for people affected by domestic violence (safety planning etc), funding workshops and supervision training.

When you first joined the Trust did you expect to find a large workload in a suburb such as Howick which is largely seen as a district of ‘comfortably off’ professional families? Or is this just a stereotype?

The needs within the East Auckland community have always been there, however I have noticed an increase over my nine years at Sowers. There is definitely a perception that there is little or no need out this way and this makes it extremely difficult for agencies such as ours to get the funding that we need to employ enough staff to meet growing needs.
When we held our first auction night a couple of years ago I remember approaching a number of organisations for donations and support. People literally said, ‘no’ to me and that they supported organisations working in South Auckland ‘where the need was’. Of course there is more need there – I am not disputing that – but to suggest there is no need out our way is unrealistic.

What is the most rewarding and/or frustrating part of your job?

Ensuring families and young people have equal opportunities to develop and grow is incredibly important to me. I am passionate about finding ways for them to do that. I love creating relationships with people that build on strengths, enabling each person to reach their potential. It is so rewarding seeing the positive changes that take place, not only over the time that we are supporting a family or individual, but over the years that follow.
From a team perspective, I feel privileged to be working alongside people that share an amazing vision of hope and transformation for others. I am honoured to be in a position that encourages and witnesses the team’s growth and development.

My biggest frustration is around funding. It is really hard to plan effectively and take a sustainable approach to what we do when living month to month income-wise. Applying for funding and fundraising events, not only take us away from our core business but there are no guarantees we will receive all, or even any, of what we apply for.

What has been your biggest achievement/legacy over the last nine years with the Sowers Trust?

I believe it takes a team for an organisation to thrive and that each person has a valuable role to play. I think I have been (alongside others) a key contributor to the development and growth of Sowers and I was part of the team which developed our practice to a level that enabled us to gain Ministry of Social Development contracts.

Obtaining my degree, and subsequent social work registration while working full time, was huge for me. It provided the opportunity to move into my current role. I’m really proud to be a part of such an incredible team and what we’ve accomplished such as developing an on-going review and evaluation process enabling us to capture outcomes more effectively, and introducing new programmes to fill gaps/meet needs. These include Triple P Parenting and the Friends Programmes which assist children and youth to develop life skills to effectively cope with difficult and/or anxiety-provoking situations.

How has what you see on a daily basis, changed the dynamics of your own family life?

It has helped me appreciate what I have and my family more. It has also helped me recognise what is important to me and to appreciate differences and value the richness that diversity brings.

What is the biggest impediment you face when dealing with the escalating cases of family violence in East Auckland. Are they indeed escalating?

Family violence is definitely on the increase. It is huge. A recent example of this is the death of a 22-year-old girl in Pakuranga. Family violence doesn’t discriminate; it takes place in families in all income brackets.

It can be a symptom of other things going on in the home. Sowers is one of many organisations that links in with the family violence team at the Ormiston Police Station. There are few organisations out our way to refer to and we often need to close referrals as we get more than we can cope with.

Are locals are surprised when they learn of the numbers of families that regularly experience family violence in their lives, particularly in our area, or are we becoming complacent, even desensitised?

The perception of East Auckland being a community with little or no problems is held both within and outside of our community. We never know what someone is going through or what they are struggling with and the more we can refrain from judgment and assumptions, the better.

In East Auckland we have amazing beaches, parks, shops and cafes. We are truly blessed. So yes, I think that people are often surprised to learn the extent of the problems that exist here. Desensitisation is on the increase and supported by what we read and see in the media. When something isn’t happening to us, or someone we know, it is easy to think that it is not happening at all.

Is family violence more common amongst lower socioeconomic groups or is it relatively even across the board?

I think that suggesting poverty breeds violence is a narrow focused perspective. In my experience family violence does not discriminate and occurs in all socio-economic groups. However, poverty can increase the occurrence and severity of violence, making leaving a situation more difficult to navigate.

Are such issues as drug and alcohol use, problem gambling or mental illness often instigators of family violence? If so, what work (if any) does Sowers do to address these underlying causes?

Based on reports that I see, alcohol plays a huge part in family violence occurrence. We are more vulnerable after a few drinks and less likely to make the same decisions or choices we would if we were sober (another generalisation). Of course, other things can play a part too but each situation is different. When we support families, we look at the bigger picture of how things are for a family so the support we provide ensures that a family is well connected into their community and in a position to access the support needed to change their situation. The challenge in East Auckland is that there are few supports available.

How effective are such campaigns as ‘It’s not okay’ in helping curb family violence? Could the money spent on these be better employed elsewhere?

It is always good to review programmes/campaigns from time to time to ensure desired outcomes are being met. With reference to the “It’s not okay” campaign, the message has been brought home loud and clear by exposing the nature of violence. Social media has played a part in what is a new and constantly developing area. The viral nature of social media means that each person who sees the advert or posts can spread the news so information can reach a large number of people in a short time.

Who should be the first point of contact when family violence occurs?

Anyone with immediate safety concerns should call 111 for the Police. Ask a neighbour or friend to call if you can’t make the call. If you are not in immediate danger but would like to talk with someone about your situation then contact refuge (0800REFUGE) or another local organisation such as ours to have a confidential conversation. Refuge has safe houses so, if someone needs to get out urgently, it is the best group to call.

If you were Minister of Social Development for a day what would you do and why?

Key policy changes need to impact positively on low income families which make up the greatest number of our working age population. It makes sense that if they are better off then we all are. NZ has a habit of putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff instead of a fence at the top. Early intervention, a living wage and a more effective education system should be a key focus for our future.

If you could invite any two people (living or dead) to dinner who would you ask and why?

Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. It would be great to get their perspective on life and further understand their experiences and what shaped their thinking. To learn from their obvious strength of character, which enabled them, in spite of challenges, to stand up for what they believed in, would be empowering.