Bay man scoops volunteer award

By Doug Laing

Hawke's Bay can lay some claim to being the home of the champion volunteer after scooping a major honour at the New Zealander of the Year Awards for the second year in a row.

Blind people's worker, long-time social worker, and now suicide prevention worker Jim Morunga of Napier was named "Local Hero", ahead of two others chosen nationwide as finalists at the Kiwibank awards in Auckland.

The same honour was won 12 months ago by Flaxmere community advocate and Hastings district councillor Henare O'Keefe.

Mr Morunga, one of dozens of nominations nationwide, was unable to be contacted immediately last night, but there were both congratulations and a warning from his immediate predecessor.

Mr O'Keefe said: "I'm absolutely rapt for Jim. This is recognition of everything he does, he does an awful lot, and he's been at it much longer than I have."

But he warned that, if Mr Morunga thought life had been busy, then it was going to get busier as he would get called on to perform a range of duties, including public speaking.

"The good part is that draws attention to what you're doing," said Mr O'Keefe.

Award organisers said Mr Morunga was a testimony to disabled persons that you do not have to fit the "box".

Blinded at the age of 22, he vowed not to let his blindness interfere with making his mark on the community. In Napier, he made established the Jay-Em Trust to provide employment and training opportunities for young people, the Maraenui Community Trust, and the Maraenui Rugby Club (now the Maraenui Rugby and Sports Association).

He also headed the Maraenui Marae Establishment Trust during the major fundraising and building phase which resulted in the construction of Pukemokimoki Marae.

He was also president of national blind support group Ngati Kapo.

"He may be blind, but there are times when he sees more than most of us," Mr O'Keefe said.

Kiwibank chief executive Paul Brock congratulated Mr Morunga, saying: "Every day there are special people working tirelessly to improve the lives of others. But its only now, with the Local Hero awards, that we can truly stand alongside one another and give thanks for their efforts.

"People like Jim are the glue that hold a community together," he said. "He's an inspiration for Maori youth in the Hawke's Bay and we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his work in suicide prevention."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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