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Maree Steunebrink: Westfield Local Heroes 2018

Maree tells stories that bring people to life

The $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant has allowed us to set up and run our “This is us: Storytelling Workshop”.

The community have enjoyed putting pen to paper to tell their own story and share something really valuable. They have created a further, deeper, and more meaningful connection amongst their peers as they can really get to know each other and share their own experiences of living in South Auckland.

More than 20 workshops have been held in schools, community centres and for a variety of community groups so far.

Social worker Maree Steunebrink is more used to helping other people tell their stories than having stories written about her.

She is the director of Humans of South Auckland, a non-profit project inspired by Humans of New York that helps local people share their personal stories of hope and pride.

She put up her hand to help the charity, which was founded by a friend who wanted to bring the community together following the tragic death of a local student.

The stories are posted on Facebook, Instagram and a dedicated website.

“We’ve also done a couple of art gallery shows and had our stories as a regular feature in a newspaper,” says Maree.
Apart from her, there are two other storytellers.

Maree took over as director when the founder left Auckland two years ago. Since then, her infectious enthusiasm has kept the project going from strength to strength.

Maree and the other writers have so far brought 200 stories to life. They rely on people to write in to nominate friends or family with an inspiring tale to tell.

One story that stands out for Maree involves a couple named as foster parents of the year.

They became foster parents when they were unable to have their own children. But when interviewed they had some exciting news. They were pregnant. They were determined to keep fostering, however.
“They are an incredible couple,” says Maree.

A 12-year-old boy who created a short film about his younger brother who had died from cancer also touched Maree.
“It was chosen for a film festival and was shown in New York’s Time Square.”

Maree is delighted to be a Westfield Local Hero as it shows the stories are uniting the community.

She says it is therapeutic for vulnerable students to share stories about their hardest moments or an incident that changed them.

“The feedback we get from teachers is that they had no idea what the kids had been through and they now understand each other more,” Maree says.

“It tells young people they have value and to me, that is super important.”

For further information on the Westfield Local Heroes program, click here.

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