From teaching yoga to gardening to literacy, volunteers make a valuable contribution to Hawke's Bay Regional Prison, and this week four such volunteers were thanked for their efforts by the Department of Corrections.

In conjunction with National Volunteer Week, which began on Sunday, Dene Thomas, Linda Trubridge, Dorothea Millen and Anne Brown received Volunteer Awards at a ceremony at the prison yesterday.

Prison director George Massingham said there were only eight awards given out by the Department of Corrections nationally this year, and the fact that four were from Hawke's Bay was a great achievement.

"The theme of this year's National Volunteer Week is 'heart of the community' and that's what you are for the prison community - the time and effort you put in is remarkable."


Department of Corrections regional commissioner Paul Tomlinson also attended the awards presentation yesterday and thanked the four volunteers for their efforts.

"Your kindness of spirit that you bring to the institution brings a softness that will be appreciated by the men, and gives them a sense of still being connected."

After working as an employment instructor at the prison for 12 years, Dene Thomas retired four years ago but has continued to contribute, helping the prisoners within Te Whare Tirohanga Maori Unit grow produce for local charities.

"I take them from planning and planting the seeds to harvest - a lot of them do not know how to plant their own plants.

"It's good for them to see someone out of a uniform - it encourages them to get a different viewpoint."

For the last eight years Linda Trubridge had taught yoga to the inmates, with her classes becoming one of the more popular at the prison.

She said not only did it give the men flexibility, it also helped them take control of their behaviour problems.

Dorothea Millen started as a Howard League volunteer in 1999, then went on to develop a programme called HAMSTER (Household and Monetary Skills to Encourage Reintegration).

She said she saw about 300 inmates a year through these courses, and when the festive season approached she helped the men make Christmas cards.

"By and large almost every one of them is a gem and that's why I continue doing what I do."

Since 2012, Anne Brown had delivered the Howard League literacy and numeracy programme, which was tailored to meet the individual's needs.

She said she had seen people change significantly over the 12 weeks the course was offered.

"There was one who had been offhand at the beginning but by the time they graduated they were a different person."

The prison's regional volunteer co-ordinator Karyn Teddy said there were about 120 volunteers working at the prison, including those who were part of the chaplaincy services.

"I consider my job a privilege but it's made even better because of the likes of these volunteers - attracting volunteers to a prison environment is not always easy - it takes a special person to work with these men."

The four award recipients had also been nominated for the Hawke's Bay Volunteer Excellence Awards being held tomorrow night.