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Disabled volunteers muck in at the park

Student volunteers with disabilities have been mucking in to maintain Masterton’s Queen Elizabeth Park and graveyard as part of an initiative that’s been running for five years.

In 2019, Doug Bracewell proposed the idea of involving youth with disabilities at Wairarapa College in looking after the park and cemetery by tidying up tree debris.

Since then, there have been seven young helpers from the college’s Whare Āwhina Supported Learning Centre who have participated, including three current volunteers who have the support of three adults.

Bracewell said he finds immense joy in helping young individuals learn, grow, and develop life skills and is “proud” three of the volunteers have found employment.

“It’s exciting that it’s given them a lot more opportunities and something that they are capable of doing,” he said.

Bracewell, who was a former Masterton Council caretaker and is passionate about parks and reserves, said the experience inspired him to extend the opportunity he had to people with disabilities.

He manages the initiative himself, with help from teacher aid Sue McGhie, support worker Edward Ririnui, and the Green by Nature team, which receives and disposes of the debris.

Green by Nature manager Thomas Duxfield said Bracewell is a “great role model” who is renowned for his tireless volunteer work across numerous sporting groups, schools, and not-for-profits.

“In a nutshell, he’s the sort of guy that’s the unsung hero,” he said.

He noted that Bracewell collects the park volunteers in his car before each shift and drops them off again afterwards.

“As we celebrate Volunteers Awareness Week, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Doug, Sue, and Ed who contribute their time and energy to our community,” Duxfield said.

“Through their efforts, our community becomes a more inclusive, supportive, and vibrant place for everyone.”

Their dedication has not only helped to maintain the beautiful parks and reserves but enriched the lives of young adults Daniel, Rhion, Cody, Harry, Will, Sam and Josh, he said.

McGhie, who works in the Special Learning Centre at Wairarapa College, said her students “love” getting out for an hour a week.

“Doug’s a really good guy to have the students work alongside; he’s patient, and the students really relate to him,” she said.

Over the past four years, Sue has brought McGhie students into the volunteer programme alongside Edward, who supports Daniel and others in the community.

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