Two deserving local charities have been chosen by public nominations to benefit from the upcoming Ladies' Charity Luncheon, an all-day event for ladies only at Trustpower Baypark Arena on August 16.

It promises to be a great get-together with fantastic food, lots of fun, and a good dose of glamour.

Just a limited number of tables are still available and, as it did in previous years, it's expected to sell out quickly.

No less than 1000 ladies are already looking forward to top entertainment and an extravagant three-course lunch, to enjoy alongside the witty and attentive Bond Boys, a charity auction and fashion parade.

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Jackie Clarke is MC for the Ladies Charity Luncheon Photo/ file
Jackie Clarke is MC for the Ladies Charity Luncheon Photo/ file

The vivacious Jackie Clarke will MC on the day, and Tina Cross, an icon of the New Zealand entertainment industry, is booked as the guest speaker.

All the fun and glitter aside, the most important reason the Ladies' Charity Luncheon is held is to raise much needed funds for two local charities, to help them continue the good work they do in our community. The chosen charities this year are Tauranga Women's Refuge and the Blue Light Youth Driver Navigation Programme.

Blue Light is a registered charity that works in partnership with police to empower youth by organising a range of valuable programmes. One of their initiatives is the Youth Driver Navigation Programme, for which young people are referred to either through their school or agencies such as WINZ or the Department of Corrections.

The students, aged between 16 and 24, show a lot of potential, but getting their licence can be a barrier. They often don't have access to a vehicle they can legally drive, or they don't have a suitable adult available to take them out for driving lessons. Quite often, they don't have the financial means to pay for driving instruction or a licence either.

Within the Youth Driver Navigation Programme, these young people partner up with volunteers from our community, the Navigators, who take them out on drives on a weekly basis.

Gillian Larsen and her student Fe'ofa'aki Laula. Photo/ George Novak
Gillian Larsen and her student Fe'ofa'aki Laula. Photo/ George Novak

Gillian Larsen is one of the local Blue Light Navigators. She saw an advert in the paper and followed up, because she admires the work that New Zealand police does with young people.

"A few years ago, I volunteered as a nominated person who accompanied young people who found themselves at the police station with no parent present. I also worked with Youth Aid and facilitated the Blue Light Dare programme in my role as a school counsellor, so the Youth Driver Navigation Programme was a great fit and follow on for me," Gillian says.

Gillian is no stranger to volunteering, as she also helps out at the Tauranga Historic Collection and assists young men with reading at Tauranga Boys' College.

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"It's our lovely family that gives me and my husband an added reason to be active where we can in our community," she says.

Gillian finds it hard to say what she likes most about this particular volunteering role, but she says it is most pleasing to see driving students make progress in skills and confidence, then pass the test. The only challenge she faces is finding times for lessons around busy schedules.

She says Elliot Hira, the programme organiser in Tauranga, is hugely committed to helping the young people involved, and he is hugely supportive of his Navigators.

"I would definitely recommend being a Navigator. Passing a driving licence tells a prospective employer that the person can persevere to pass written, oral and practical tests, values the rules of the road and will be able to drive a vehicle as part of their job.

It's a wonderful CV addition for any young person," she says.
Gillian and her student Fe'ofa'aki Laula, or Aki for short, have been driving together for about three months.

"She is just lovely, chatty and fun. I admire her commitment to her training course, her paid work, and her love for her Tongan culture," Gillian says.

Navigators and students use Blue Light cars for lessons, not private cars, and the programme co-ordinator will manage the learner drivers through the three components of the driver licensing system of learners, restricted and full licences. Licensing and all course costs are met by the programme where the student does not have the means to do so.

Help make a difference
Blue Light urgently needs more Navigators to mentor and teach young people through this programme to keep up with the growing demand for assistance with learner drivers. If you are a responsible driver, can spare a couple of hours each week, and are interested in taking on this rewarding volunteer role, join Blue Light at its volunteer navigator night on Wednesday, July 10 at The Kollective in the Historic Village on 17th Ave, between 5.30pm and 7pm. For more information, you can also email info@bluelight.co.nz