Pictured: Owen Roberts and Veena Kameta
Veena Kameta knows the Rotorua suburb of Western Heights inside and out – she grew up here, and is now raising her own three sons in the same community.
And as the new co-ordinator of the Western Heights Community Association, she has a real opportunity to improve the lives of her neighbours and fellow residents.
Veena is a former youth worker who has a vast range of skills including building community gardens, managing volunteer databases and organising events, sports tournaments, cooking workshops, dance classes and more.
But her new role is a challenge she’s looking forward to tackling head on.
“I realised I wanted to work with the community from a different angle. If you can create new opportunities for people, life can be better.
“I want to take the rough kids who are in a bad space and teach them how to do more than just collect a benefit. But you have to get into their homes and schools and I’m prepared to do that.”
Veena has just begun working for the Western Heights Community Association full-time and her role is made possible by a $25,000 grant from BayTrust.
Association chairman Owen Roberts says a paid co-ordinator is necessary because the workload is too much for volunteers to manage on their own.
“The aim of our organisation is to try and maintain a safer and better environment for all the residents. We have so many things on the go now so it’s great to have this extra funding which allows us to keep going.”
One key project in 2017 is to re-invigorate the park on Turner Drive near Western Heights Primary School.
The Association is working alongside Rotorua Lakes Council to improve the playground equipment, upgrade the toilet block, reduce traffic speed and plant a community garden and small orchard on site.
“We’re trying to ensure it gets more positive use,” Owen explains. “Using it more will keep the people in the community there and give them some pride in the area where they live.”
Another important project involves raising funds for the local medical centre’s Healthy Homes initiative. It aims to address housing problems which cause poor health and illnesses like Rheumatic Fever.
“The DHB funds the labour involved but our Association raises money to buy things like beds, bedding, draught stoppers and new curtains,” Owen says.
“There’s a huge number of people whose beds in these houses are totally inadequate. They’re often on the floor, or they’re sleeping 2 or 3 to a bed. It doesn’t help healthy outcomes at all.”
In her new role, Veena will help co-ordinate a huge number of other community initiatives that the Association is involved in, including Western Heights’ Free Parking service for youth activities, the police-run CACTUS programme for local school students and the ‘Kai-Roto’ Safe as Houses initiative to improve issues like fire risk, heating and security in people’s homes.
“We have got a lot of goals for Western Heights and I want to make sure they get done,” Veena says.
“If you grow up here you should be able to own your own home, go to your local park, find employment and be part of decision-making in this community. There’s a lot of work to do but I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can achieve.”