Volunteering Waikato's Excellence Volunteer of the Year — Youth Award — celebrates the effort of volunteers under the age of 25.
This year it went to joint winners, Monica Hill, nominated by the New Zealand Red Cross and Reef Majurey-Johns, nominated by the Order of St John — Central Region.
Monica, 20, attended her first Volunteer Excellence Awards ceremony in 2014 as a Year 12 Hamilton Girls High School student and was impressed by that year's speaker, Red Cross' Rachel O'Connor.
Rachel invited Monica to a Red Cross meeting. Nearly five years on and Monica says that volunteering is her life and she wouldn't have it any other way.
As a teen she had felt "a bit lost" and was looking for a sense of purpose and a place to belong. She said she has found both at Red Cross.
Being nominated by two of her biggest supports for the youth award, she says, was quite cool.
"You just want one person to have a little bit of faith in you and that was that for me," Monica said.
Her citation read: "Monica took on the role of Disaster Welfare and Support Team leader at 19 years of age — the youngest team leader in the country. She provides strong leadership for a team who are mostly older than her. Monica is also a member of the
Waikato Volunteer Operational Team for Fire and Emergency NZ.
Her can-do attitude and strong community focus means that Monica will continue to positively impact the Hamilton and wider Waikato area."
Monica has been deployed five times, but says the Edgecumbe flooding really affected her.
"You're seeing all these people who have literally lost everything. You couldn't keep anything. Everything they owned had to be put out on the street because everything was contaminated and it's that thought of imagine everything that you have and you putting that on the side of the street," Monica said.
She acknowledged the efforts of civilians determined to help out at the community level during the crisis and of the Hamilton DWS team that were there too.
"I have my team of 40 amazing people that I can come to and I know at the end of the day we're all here for a common purpose. They're wanting to drop everything to go and help.
"When we go to a disaster, it doesn't matter at all who you are or where you're from or what your background is, we will look after you," she said.
Monica is encouraged seeing other people volunteering from a couple of 16 year olds who have recently joined Red Cross, to nine adults looking to be recruited in some capacity to her team to Volunteer Excellence Award winner, Reef Majurey-Johns, and she says that their joint win was "quite cool".
The joint winner's nomination read: "Reef is an amazing young man with a zest for life.
With his vibrant leadership style Reef engages with everyone, whether it is the St John youth that he is helping to develop, the large team of FEDs volunteers he co-manages, or families and patients that he is quietly and confidently assisting. He has the ability to
connect with a wide range of people, cultures, ages and backgrounds. Reef is an
outstanding role model for our tamariki, youth members and people in the wider
The 19 year old started with the Order of St John youth programme when he was 12 and by his second week he wanted to stop. His family however, encouraged him to stay on and last year he attained the ultimate St John cadet recognition — his Grand Prior Award from Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy.
He now aspires to continue within the pre-hospital emergency care industry, to continue volunteering and eventually to do his Paramedicine degree at AUT.
Currently, Reef co-manages one of the Friends of the Emergency Department (FED) programmes at Waikato Hospital, is a resource manager for Waikato District for youth, an operations volunteer out of the Cambridge station.
"I just like being able to help people," he says.
St John gave to him during his intermediate and high school years and was his safe place to go. There he says he was surrounded with lots of great role models and he sees his service as giving back to the organisation and to the community.
As an ambulance first responder Reef had only been on the front line a few months when he was called to a situation that still affects him — a suicide attempt by a 12-year-old boy.
"That really got to me. The fact that he was only 12 and he was already attempting suicide and it wasn't his first attempt," he said. The situation hit home for Reef but he was glad to be there for the boy and his family at that time.
The experience also impressed upon him the kinds of call-outs ambulance officers are expected to go to and take responsibility for.
"I don't really know who else would," he said.
Being able to help people is what makes it worth it for Reef.
"I can definitely speak on behalf of the FED team that they do so much work and don't ask for anything in return for it. They're quite happy just to get a pat on the back and then get on with it and keep going back for every shift," he said.
The Excellence award winner has a favourite quote he says speaks volumes of the importance of individuals working together to affect change.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."