Whangarei 'Super gran' gives all for love

By Hannah Norton

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While most would hail Joan Townhill as an unsung hero - she'd be quick to refute it.

The Hikurangi grandmother 'in her 60s' looks after her five grandchildren, aged five to 13 - and goes to work each day so she can do it.

"I'd love to be a stay at home nana - but I just can't," she said.

"But then there's people in far worse situations than we are."

A month after they came into her care, nearly five years ago, she joined the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust, the nationwide organisation that was awarded the 'Community of the Year' category at the 2013 New Zealander of the Year Awards last month.

Joining the organisation made her realise just how many grandparents were looking after their grandchildren.

"It made me appreciate my position," she said, giving an example of Far North grandparents raising ten grandchildren.

"There are grandparents raising grandchildren who have it much more difficult."

She thanks several local schools and organisations for helping her.

"I couldn't have done it without the help of the Child Help Clinic and Special Education [run by the Ministry of Education].

"And the kids' schools [Totara Grove School and Kamo Intermediate] have just been amazing. They really have gone beyond the call of duty."

Her eldest grandson was accepted into the boarding programme at Whangarei Boys' High. "They've been absolutely amazing too," she said.

But it's not just been the help she's received, but the kids themselves that have made it easier for Joan.

"My grandchildren treat me with a lot of respect. They are so thankful. They are amazing children.

"They all love dance, sports, kapa haka - they never just sit around," she said.

It's been these loves that she thinks helped the children make the transition to living with her full-time a bit smoother.

"Sport helps ... it teaches things like teamwork, trust and faith. When they came to me I thought straight away they should be in sport.

"At the moment, things are so busy, winter's coming, which means rugby, netball and basketball. I try and give them as many opportunities as I possibly can," she said.

She was trying to find time for herself to "recharge those batteries" so recently she cut down on work hours.

"But you end up cleaning and doing the washing. I do at least three loads of washing a day," she said. "Sometimes I am just absolutely shattered."

But she always remembers that she is doing it for love, and there's never a dull moment. "No two days are ever the same," she laughs.


*NOMINATE A WHANGAREI LOCAL UNSUNG HERO. Email editor@thereport.co.nz.

- Northern Advocate

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