TWENTY-EIGHT year-old Jess Kirwan has faced many challenges but continues to overcome them at every turn.
Tireless and cheerful Jess works part time in administration and cleaning at Tūranga Health – a job she came to through her involvement with Tūranga Health’s Vanessa Lowndes Centre.
She works half an hour every morning and has learned a lot in her first year. “It’s been good doing things like learning how to work the scanner - when it doesn't die on me - and meeting new people through customer service.”
The Vanessa Lowndes Centre, on Derby St is a melting pot of people each experiencing various levels of intellectual, physical and or sensory disabilities.
Every day people arrive at the Centre to take part in programmes and classes helping them learn skills to live in society and make progress towards their own independence. At VLC the students are known as “whānau”.
Vanessa Lowndes Service Manager Laura Biddle says a lot of work goes into building confidence and preparing people for employment.
“Jess is pretty independent now. I have seen huge growth in her. Once she sets her mind to something she puts in 100 percent. Her achievements are worth celebrating.”
Last year Jess completed the Taupō Great Lakes Relay as part of a team. “I always wanted to achieve something like that and now I have. I did the Weet-Bix TRYathlon in Auckland every year when I was younger, so I am pretty proud of myself.” Just last week Jess helped out as a marshal at this year’s Weet-Bix Tryathlon in Gisborne.
She has some other exciting new year’s resolutions.
“I really want to get my restricted. I got my learner's license last year which was exciting because my nana’s husband promised me $100 if I passed.”
Getting Jess through her learners license took some effort. She studied at Adult Literacy Tūranga and took AA website practice tests at Tūranga Health. “I’ve been learning to drive but mum says I have a bit of a hot-foot.”
It’s hard to imagine when Jess will find the time to practice driving in preparation for her restricted license test with her packed schedule. She takes spin and sprint cycle classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Taekwondo classes with Te Karaka Taekwondo on Fridays and Tuesdays. She’s a green belt going for her blue stripes this year. “I enjoy it. I like learning self defense. I’m getting better and better.”
Taekwondo has an added challenge with much of the class spoken in Korean. “I can get nervous when the master asks me a question,” she says. Not so nervous that she hasn’t helped out as an instructor in Taekwondo classes for people with their own challenges. “I was scared at first but then I got my confidence up and really enjoyed it. I also learned about other special needs.”
Jess takes part in courses at the Tairāwhiti Environment Centre and she likes to draw. She’s saving for a car, wants to go to Australia later this year, and is keen to complete the bike leg of IronMāori.
“I like to keep busy, it keeps me out of mischief,” says the amazing Jess Kirwan in her understated way!
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