Spreading the net to fix pool

By Cherie Howie

Two packages sit outside Verdon Kelliher's Auckland front door. One is a boxing glove from Joseph Parker, the other a signed 2015 Kiwis jersey.

They are no cause for excitement, the courier is coming for them.

They have done their job - raising money for a new swimming pool in the tiny quake-devastated North Canterbury settlement of Waiau.

Packages at the door, working late into the night, and turning anything or anyone into a fundraising opportunity - former US First Lady Michelle Obama is the latest in his sights - has been a big part of Kelliher's life since a series of faults exploded into life on November 14.

"That's all the Trade Me stuff," he said of the mail. "This is what it's like - we're forever packaging stuff up and sending it out ... that's my world."

Kelliher lives 661km north of Waiau. He has not long started a new job at innovations start-up Foundry and lives in Remuera with his wife and three children.

But two days after the 7.8 magnitude monster he started a fundraiser to rebuild Waiau's school pool, which is among 39 Waiau properties red-stickered in the quake that had the power of 400 atom bombs.

The Ministry of Education doesn't replace school pools, or insure them. Communities must do that.

The exact cost is not yet known, but is expected to be well north of $500,000 for at least a lane pool, toddler's pool, concreting and changing rooms.

It's a daunting target, but 48-year-old Kelliher reckons raising money in Auckland is nothing compared to what those living in the quake zone are going through.

Verdon Kelliher knows a lot of people to ask for help, especially in our biggest city. Photo / File
Verdon Kelliher knows a lot of people to ask for help, especially in our biggest city. Photo / File

He describes himself as the "evangelist for Waiau" and isn't keen on being the focus of this story. But there's nothing Kelliher won't do to rebuild Waiau's pool.

Kelliher knows a lot of people to ask for help, especially in our biggest city. "The Aucklanders came on board early. Within the first 10 days we had $3500."

Members of the Waiau community soon joined the effort, among them pool rebuild committee chairwoman Emma Duncan.

The mum-of-four didn't know Kelliher before the quake, and initially kept expecting him to tell the community to take over.

But with more than $160, 000 raised, and another $125,000 in donated labour also pledged, he's not giving up. Kelliher's latest idea is a celebrity dinner, with former First Lady Michelle Obama on the guest list. He's not joking.

Michelle Obama. Photo / AP
Michelle Obama. Photo / AP

"I think she's pretty cool. How I get on, I don't know, but what I've found through this entire process is you just aim big and then you get stuck in and something comes out the back of it."

It's like when Kelliher made his first connection with Waiau as an 18-year-old Post and Telegraph apprentice. His foreman was also caretaker of the school pool and delegated the volunteer role to new Waiau resident Kelliher.

"It's Kiwi mentality ... when someone needs help, well, you help them."

Raised on various high country farms, Waiau was his first experience of life "in town". He left five years later, but the bond stuck.

He hoped people would see the fundraiser as bigger than the pool they want to build.

"The bigger picture is Waiau's in a bad way. Waiau only has a population of 250 people ... but they lost almost everything. Almost all of the infrastructure's gone."

How to help: Donate here

Email: verdonkelliher@gmail.com

- Herald on Sunday

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