A local not-for-profit group that strives to help young people with learning difficulties is feeling very humbled after becoming a finalist in the Mitre 10 New Zealand Community of the Year category in the 2017 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards.

Reporoa's Empowered Learning Trust manager Karen Barker said the nomination was most unexpected.

"It's quite an honour to be nominated. We're still coming to terms with it."

Mrs Barker said it was the first time the organisation, which started in 2011, had been nominated for the award, and it did not know who put the group forward.


The trust carries out specialised screening programmes in collaboration with schools to identify specific learning difficulties so young people can reach their full potential.

"We want to get in early on their educational journey so we screen Year 4 students for visual processing disorder [Irlen Syndrome], auditory processing disorder, and other learning difficulties," said Mrs Barker.

Chairwoman Kathy Cane said the processing disorders occurred when the brain had difficulty interpreting the information going in through the eyes and ears.

"These issues can be corrected if identified early ... our aim is for every child in New Zealand, or the world, to have the same opportunity to have these sorted. Ideally this would be government-funded in the future."

Mrs Cane said she believed a key to the success of the trust was its personnel.

During the past five years more than 300 children had been fitted with corrective lenses "which we try to get at no cost to the student," said Mrs Barker.

Currently the trust is focused on the rural community, visiting schools in Reporoa, Murupara, Galatea as well as a few in Taupo.

There are six trustees and three part-time staff of two community screeners, Sarah McKnight and Kim Shearer, and Mrs Barker as trust manager.

Mrs Barker said her main hope, whatever happened, was that the award nomination raised awareness.

"We're onto a good thing. We want to catch things before they become issues, as later on in schooling children start to struggle more and more. It's wonderful to be recognised for our great work and for collaborating work with schools and the community."

The winners will be announced at the New Zealander of the Year Awards Gala in Auckland on February 22.