Jaycee Maunsell-McMenamin’s job as a whanau social worker for Nga Puhi Iwi Social Services in Northland is, as she says, humungous.

In the course of a day, she could deliver supplies to a flood-stricken family, meet with an expectant mother and midwife to work out a birth plan, or attend a parole meeting at nearby Ngawha Prison. It’s a demanding, practical job in a high-needs area.

“I’m working with families to help them to achieve whanau ora – economic, social, spiritual and cultural security,” says Jaycee, (Nga Puhi) is home in Kaikohe after some time in Auckland.

“The scope of my job is humungous – it’s pretty much what I am willing to do in an area that stretches from Wellsford to Kaitaia.”

Peak of a learning journey

When Jaycee graduated last year from Unitec in Auckland with Bachelor of Social Practice (Community Development) degree, it was the peak of a learning journey that’s taken three years of determination, hard work and a heap of support.

Support not only from close and extended whanau but also the disability support systems available through Unitec and Whai Ake, its Maori scholarship and mentoring scheme.

Jaycee had always been a high achiever and knew she wanted to go to university. She didn’t know about the support systems available.

Perseverance with studying

Jaycee has a disability which affects her hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck – and on a bad day, her entire back.

At work she has specially installed ergonomic equipment and her caseload is carefully supervised to prevent burn-out.

Her disability was definitely the biggest challenge for Jaycee while she was studying.

“I couldn’t write an assignment until a week before it was due, otherwise I knew my hands would be too sore to finish. I did have a note taker which was great, but they didn’t always capture the things I had missed.”

Finance was also a big struggle. “I needed to be supported by therapies like physio and acupuncture and they weren’t recognised by Study Link, so I had to get a loan.” 

Whanau support

What she did have was whanau, including her mother Vicky who was so inspired by Jaycee’s efforts, that she too took up tertiary study, despite never having finished school.

Jaycee says her learning efforts have helped her to make a difference in her own community and she’s even considering further study.

She’d like to do event management and graphic design, but still within the framework of social services.