The first recipients of this year's Pride of New Zealand Awards were recognised at a special ceremony in Auckland last night.
The life-changing achievements of six unsung Kiwi heroes were celebrated at the Upper North Island regional awards, held at New Zealand Media and Entertainment (NZME) headquarters on Albert St in the CBD. The Pride of New Zealand Awards are sponsored by the Herald, The Hits radio station and TSB Bank.
For her creative and tireless support of cancer-based charities, Joan Swift won the lifetime achievement category. The 82-year-old said last night's recognition was "really amazing" and had left her with a special feeling. Mrs Swift said this feeling was up there with her winning the Queen's Service Medal and Rotary Paul Harris fellow award - both for her decades of voluntary service.
Laura Howard's work providing clothes and other basic necessities to underprivileged babies and their families led to her winning the community spirit category. The 31-year-old mother of two said she is constantly "blown away" by the generosity of Kiwis who want to help other people in need. "It's really beautiful and completely awesome and humbling ... "
Mrs Howard said her not-for-profit organisation Littlemore would not exist if it wasn't for the help of her husband, team of volunteers, and their sponsors.
Wellsford teenager Liam Connolly won the emergency services category for his dedication to both the fire service and St John. The 19-year-old, who was "on the clock" last night, logs about 80 voluntary hours a week for the two services, while still balancing a full-time job and coaching netball.
Connolly, who is also currently doing fire and ambulance courses, is trying to join the police.
When asked how he manages to fit it all in, he replied: "I don't socialise much ... I suppose I just do it when I feel I can."
Robbie Ritchie, who won the fundraiser of the year category for his dedication to helping save those suffering a life-threatening illness, said the award was "very humbling".
The 35-year-old's fundraising organisation One Dollar Warriors has raised almost quarter of a million dollars in 10 months.
"The hope that comes from this is that more people will sign up and become warriors and we'll be able to save more lives. That's what it's about for me," he said.
Rick Braddock's dedication to biofarming and his enthusiasm for a next generation of farmers, won him the environment category. He was unable to attend the ceremony last night as he was overseas, in Texas.
Mr Braddock has transformed Motutapu Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf through his biological and natural approach to farming, and is now encouraging and sharing these methods with young aspiring farmers through scholarships.
The heroic act of Dudley Andrews - saving two young boys from drowning on 90 Mile Beach earlier this year - won him the Bravery and Heroism category. The 37-year-old, a teacher at Kaitaia College, said while it meant a lot to be recognised by his peers, the real trophy was saving 5-year-old Rex Haora Pairama and his 6-year-old cousin Wiremu Bennett-Hati.
Since the rescue, Mr Andrews has got to know the two boys. He explained how special this experience was.
"When I met them for the first time, one of the boys said to his nana, 'Is that Mr Andrews?' and the nana goes 'Yeah, it is'. And the boy said, 'No it's not, because the man who saved me had wings'."
Readers can vote for the TSB Bank People's Choice Award from August 17. The winner from this public vote will be announced at the prestigious national Pride of New Zealand Awards ceremony on September 16. This person will also receive $10,000 from TSB Bank to go towards their chosen cause.
Life-changing achievers will inspire you
Joan Swift joined the Cancer Society in 1978 after experiencing the deaths of seven family members including her sister, brother and father.
She has been given a Queen's Service Medal for recognition of her voluntary work and made a Rotary Paul Harris fellow and an honorary Rotary life member.
The Aucklander offers staunch support to the Cancer Society and to the separate Look Good, Feel Better charity, which helps people diagnosed with cancer whose treatment alters their appearance.
Mrs Swift has been involved in a multitude of projects and was with the society at the inception of Daffodil Day.
Her most recent project, of which she is most proud, is the naming of the Looking Good rose - a unique cerise pink rose which raises awareness and funds for the Look Good, Feel Better charity.
Other proud projects include the creation of a men's Look Good, Feel Better workshop and the opening of a Cancer Society charity shop in Howick, just last week.
Bravery & Heroism: Dudley Andrews, Kaitaia
Dudley Andrews rescued two small Kaitaia boys at Waipapakauri Ramp on 90 Mile Beach in March.
The former soldier of 17 years rescued Rex Haora Pairama, 5, and his 6-year-old cousin Wiremu Bennett-Hati from drowning after they were swept out beyond the surf.
The first youngster was about 50m beyond the breakers when Mr Andrews entered the water with a bodyboard. The little boy was on his back and kicking, but was going under the water.
Mr Dudley reassured him, as he got close, that he was there to help him and that he would be okay, then comforted the boy as he paddled him back to reunite him with his family.
But before he got back to the beach he saw people further up pointing, where another boy was about 100 metres out from the surf.
He went back into the water, this time with a surfer on a board.
The second boy was also on his back, kicking and going under.
The little boy disappeared for 10 to 15 seconds before Mr Andrews got to him and the rescuer managed to grab hold of the boy's hair, then his hand, and pulled him back up.
The two boys were checked by a St John crew and did not require hospital treatment.
Mr Andrews received a District Commander's commendation from Superintendent Russell Le Prou at the Kaitaia police station for his efforts.
Community Spirit: Laura Howard, Auckland
Lying on a hospital bed waiting to give birth, Laura Howard overheard a nurses' conversation that would move her so much, she felt she had to do something about it.
She heard a nurse comment about how some babies at Middlemore Hospital went home in baby-sized hospital gowns because their families didn't have clothes for them.
After a few weeks settling in with her new daughter, Siena - now 2 - Mrs Howard decided her feelings were too strong to ignore and she started calling on friends and family to donate baby gear for needy parents.
Living in Grey Lynn at the time, she drove to Middlemore Hospital and later other birthing units around South Auckland to pass on baby gear for families who needed it.
Her initiative became so popular that she has set up a not-for-profit organisation, Littlemore, and now has several volunteers who help to sort things and deliver them.
Over the past two years they have had more than 500 donations from around the country and have passed on 1200 bags of clothing, 59 cots, almost 700 bags of toys and more than 200 items of bedding material.
Emergency Services: Liam Connolly, Wellsford
Wellsford teenager Liam Connolly once saved a man's life before heading off for an otherwise normal school day.
The man, who collapsed at a Caltex station, was suffering cardiac arrest.
Mr Connolly and another volunteer firefighter were called to the scene and saved the man's life.
The 19-year-old has belonged to the Fire Service for three years and St John for one and is considered a young leader and hero by many.
His is the third generation of firefighters in his family - his grandfather and father both joined the service aged 16. His brother is a firefighter too.
But Liam's role has its challenges. At 16 he was called to a car fire which he discovered was also a suicide.
In 2013, he won two Auckland Airport Tamaki Makaurau youth awards for his contribution to the service.
Not only was he Rodney College head boy in 2013, but he also managed his school rugby team and coached netball.
Fundraiser of the Year: Robbie Ritchie, Auckland
Robbie Ritchie of Patumahoe battled prolonged and severe grand mal seizures. He was told they were incurable. He wouldn't live past 40.
Two years ago, he found German neurologists who could fix that. He had six weeks to come up with $200,000 to receive the treatment.
Through his community rallying together, his workplace's internal fundraising, the Herald and Seven Sharp's publicity and his own efforts, the money was raised, just in time.
As Mr Ritchie, then 33, recovered in hospital post-surgery, he had an idea. "If you need $100,000, you just ask 100,000 people for a dollar each."
One Dollar Warriors was born.
It is a fundraising organisation based on the concept of each individual giving $1 towards a cause, around once a month.
Since its inception 10 months ago, One Dollar Warriors has raised more than $200,000 to help save lives.
Environment: Rick Braddock, Auckland
The once weedy and pest-infested pastures of Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf have undergone an incredible transformation, thanks to Rick Braddock.
Where wallabies once grazed, 20 takahe now forage; where soil was stripped of nutrients, plant roots now reach deep into the earth, creating self-sustaining pasture.
Over a period of more than 20 years, Auckland-based Mr Braddock - leaseholder of the 1340ha farm - has brought a biological and natural approach to farming.
As deputy chair of the Motutapu Island Restoration Trust and a member of a multitude of other farming and environmental entities, he has helped eradicate pests and weeds, introduce native birds and set up a nursery for native flora.
He has also encouraged urban youth, particularly Maori, to take up the baton of biofarming and in particular to take over the Motutapu farm lease one day. To facilitate this, he set up scholarships with Ngai Tai ki Tamaki Tribal Trust to train urban Maori at Taratahi Agricultural Centre in Wairarapa.
•The Central North Island regional award ceremony will take place tonight at the
office in Tauranga.
•The Lower North Island regional award ceremony will take place tomorrow at the
office in Hastings.
•The South Island regional award ceremony will take place on Thursday at NZME Radio in Christchurch.
•The national award winners will be selected from these regional award winners by a panel of esteemed judges, including NZME chief executive Jane Hastings, TSB Bank chief executive Kevin Murphy, Sir Peter Leitch and basketball legend Dillon Boucher.
•The annual Pride of NZ Awards have six categories - Bravery and Heroism, Community Spirit, Fundraiser of the Year, Emergency Services, Environment and Lifetime Achievement.