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After Covid-19 abruptly upended our lives last year, 2021 began with lots of promise and hope. Then came Delta, and with it another year of monumental events. But in the Waitaki district, resilience was everywhere – and lots of great people still did lots of great things. They served, they volunteered, they achieved, they helped. The Oamaru Mail is proud, for the sixth straight year, to recognise its Waitakians of the Year. They represent everything that is great about this district, and remind us that, in the midst of a global pandemic, strength can be found by embracing your community.

AMANDA ACHESON

When people move countries, it is usually to find a better life.

In the case of Amanda Acheson, she has made life better for others since moving to Oamaru from Ireland almost 20 years ago.

Mrs Acheson has been a counsellor for 22 years, and she has put those skills to good use while managing the North Otago Youth Centre, where she has been a beacon for young people and. more recently, an advocate for rainbow youth.

She has a great ability to meet young people halfway, empowering them to feel comfortable with their authentic selves, while understanding the complexity of that journey.

This year alone, Mrs Acheson helped facilitate a rainbow youth group, providing a safe place for young LGBTQIA+ people to explore their identities, a photography group for youth to come together and express themselves, a pyjama drive so no youngsters were cold over winter, and a youth vaccination clinic to help keep the community safe.

Her care for others extends further than youth, as she and her family have spent many years in the past organising the Orwell Street Church Community Christmas Dinner to ensure people were not alone on Christmas Day.

Whatever she does for others, it is driven by kindness, understanding and resolution.

She is someone Waitaki should be proud to call one of its own.

BERNARD WILKINSON

Archdeacon Bernard Wilkinson is a force of nature.

Mr Wilkinson and his wife, Anne, moved to Oamaru from Cromwell in 1976, after he was appointed vicar of St Luke’s Anglican parish – a post he held for 16 years before retiring in 1992.

Since then, he has led a very active retirement.

Mr Wilkinson, along with a few others, established the Oamaru Churches Food Bank in response to a need in the community. Thirty years later, Mr Wilkinson, who is now in his 90s, is still volunteering at the foodbank.

Generous with his time and with an unflinching belief and faith in God, his energy still appears boundless. At an age where most people would be sitting in an armchair gently reminiscing, he continues to hurtle around the district performing carefully thought-out acts of kindness.

He has a heart of gold, and has also shown great strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

Recently, his focus has really centred on the foodbank, but Mr Wilkinson worked tirelessly for many years in several roles within the community, heavily involved in the North Otago Anglican Homes for the Aged charity and previously serving as the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations chairman.

DOUG AND DONNA HURST

An indoor sport and event centre in Oamaru has been on the cards for a long time, but this year Doug and Donna Hurst changed the project from a dream to a reality.

The North Otago couple pledged to match every dollar given to the Waitaki Event Centre project, up to $5 million.

They were inspired to make the donation during last year’s lockdown. Feeling bombarded by news predicting the collapse of businesses and mass unemployment, they wanted to do something positive for the Waitaki district.

Initially, the Hursts made the $5 million pledge under the condition of anonymity, seeking neither naming rights nor recognition – all they wanted was for their donation to get this much-wished-for dream kick started. They came forward in September to encourage everyone in the Waitaki district to get behind the fundraising drive and help create a wonderful legacy for the community.

The Hursts’ generosity is significant – they have supported the community without seeking publicity and payback for many years – and the Waitaki district has benefited in ways most people will never know.

The Waitaki Event Centre Trust – Kevin Malcolm, Deidre Senior, Denise McMillan and Adair Craik – also deserves an honourable mention for its efforts in driving community fundraising and support for this exciting project.

OAMARU PACIFIC ISLAND COMMUNITY GROUP

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole community to fight a pandemic.

Since July, the Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group (OPICG), in collaboration with Tumai Ora and Waitaki Multicultural Council and other community organisations, has helped administer thousands of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in the Waitaki district.

While its focus had been on increasing the uptake among Pacific and Maori people, the OPICG opened its clinics to everyone. As a result, the group brought the community together, educated people about the Covid vaccination, and provided opportunities for people to upskill.

Because of its focus of inclusion, and the number of people involved in the group’s efforts, it is being celebrated as a Waitakian of the Year as a whole rather than as individuals.

OPICG volunteers have been instrumental week in and week out, in bringing the vaccine to the people. They have knocked on doors, and visited workplaces, churches and other organisations, and offered clinics outside of normal hours, to ensure no-one is left behind.

They have reached people in pockets of the community who might not have otherwise got vaccinated – and without their efforts, we would not have reached the 90% first-dose milestone at this speed and prior to Christmas.

The group did not receive any funding for its work until September – it was all voluntary. The funding enabled the group to employ a Covid vaccination navigator and introduce a professional development programme for people to train as vaccine administrators.

And its work continues.

It has organised monthly vaccinations clinics from January onwards, and will be offering booster shots from February. It was also looking at opportunities to vaccinate 5-11 year olds, when that nationwide programme of work started on January 17.

OWEN GOULD

We again choose to include one posthumous honouree among our Waitakians of the Year. The great Owen Gould certainly belongs on this list.

Mr Gould had a huge influence on a great number of people in Waitaki through his 59-year involvement with the Oamaru Rowing Club.

Mr Gould joined the club as a novice in 1962 – the same year the Oamaru four won gold at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games – and spent more than 15 years as head coach.

His dedication to the sport and to the people he coached was exceptional – and his prowess as a rowing coach undeniable. He was recently awarded a green coat for coaching Logan Docherty to a New Zealand premier title last season and is one of only two Oamaru rowing coaches to be awarded the honour. The other was Rusty Robertson.

The much loved and respected coach’s impact on the community was evident on the day of his funeral, as past and present club members lined the Esplanade for a guard of honour, as he was driven past the Oamaru Harbour on his final journey.

TILLY KING

Rather than waiting for big social problems to be solved by government action, more and more young people are using their voice to create change themselves and empower others to stand up for what they believe in.

Tilly King is one of those young people.

The Waitaki Girls’ High School head girl and dux has been one of the district’s leading voices advocating for action on climate change. She is one of Waitaki’s School Strike 4 Climate representatives, and helped organise strike action and a local and national level, giving young people a chance to engage with elected officials on environmental issues.

She is a member of the Waitaki District Youth Council, which helped keep young people engaged during this year’s Level 4 lockdown, and was selected to attend the national Blake Inspire forum this year. She has also been involved in her school’s enviro club since 2017, and has led the group for the past two years.

Tilly, who plans to study environmental science at Canterbury University next year, is a quiet achiever who works hard behind the scenes to get on with the job at hand – but she deserves all of the accolades that come her way.