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Service brings joy to vision-impaired leader

Donna Laing and her guide dog Kenzie. PHOTO/FILE

Lisa Urbani

Donna Laing’s life, as a Masterton preschool teacher, social worker, manager of a support centre, and marriage celebrant, has been one of service.

She grew up in Castlepoint and during that time her parents ran the Whakataki Pub.

Her earliest memories are of chatting to patrons while her parents worked.

Her mother was an inspiration, and it is from her that Donna gets her “fighting spirit”.

Not only did her mother lose the use of her arm as a result of polio, but she was also going blind because of the hereditary condition, retinitis pigmentosa.

Despite this, she managed all the cooking at the pub, and later when Donna’s parents separated, she raised Donna and her sister as a solo mum.

It is from her that Donna learned about service to others.

“Even though it was challenging for mum, she still helped people.

“Her saying was, ‘I was looking for joy but I found service, and what I found, was that service is joy’.”

This is a mantra that Donna lives by, and even though she has inherited the same condition which means that she is legally blind, her optimism and determination is admirable.

Having grown up with a mother who was going blind, Donna recognised the signs in herself when she was 26 and working at a cinema as an usher.

Night blindness, not being able to see steps, and tripping over things were the first indicators.

Like her mother, she coped with working, raising her own two children on her own and studying as a preschool teacher, and then later a social worker.

During her 30-year career, she most enjoyed being a social worker and managing the family support centre with the preschool attached – Cloud Kids Educare – as well as working as a marriage celebrant.

Going blind is challenging to say the least, and to look at Donna, 57, no one would realise that she struggles to see and find her way around.

Her help is in the form of her faithful companion, guide dog, Kenzie, a lovable golden Labrador who came into her life in September 2018.

As a two-year-old dog, Donna had to spend three days with Kenzie tethered to her side constantly, followed by two weeks in a motel, training with her every day from 8am until after dinner.

Despite describing their first meeting as somewhat “awkward”, she feels, “she is part of me and opened my world back up”.

Now, she is launching her own business, Motuoru Development Services, with a team of social workers, psychologists, and development coaches, providing workshops and guidance to help individuals flourish, personally and professionally.

Given the current circumstances, they will be available online for consultation, funding is free for vulnerable families, and Work and Income subsidies are possible in certain circumstances.

They will also be running parenting and education programmes online and offering practical tips on how to have structure in your day.

Donna was concerned about people having to stop work suddenly to go into isolation.

She likened it to being on a “treadmill of work and life”, and said “people often fall off the end, they just collapse”.

“Just be prepared, monitor yourself, adjustment is critical, put thought into what you are doing.

“Take practical steps and keep it real, see it as a time to defrag, and if you need help, reach out.”

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