WITH the help of her extraordinary grandparents Tara Collins went from early school leaver to community nurse becoming a mother along the way.
“What my grandparents taught and showed me didn’t sink in immediately, but it did when I hit my late teens and I take my hat off to them for creating that lightbulb moment in my life.”
Tara, 28, is a community nurse with Turanga Health. Passionate about delivering healthcare in a community setting, and with a goal of working in mental health, Tara’s journey to nursing is a tangled and happy story.
Like others in her family Tara’s commitment to education in her early years was somewhat sporadic.
She grew up in Auckland with three of her six siblings and there wasn’t much money to go around. Home life could be unstructured and school just wasn’t a priority. “It was common for us kids to not go to school.”
At age 11 Tara was taken in by her Napier-based maternal grandparents Bernard and Valerie Harrision, and to this day, she attributes her own accomplishments to their love and care, and introduction to her faith.
“My grandparents began caring for me and suddenly there was money to do sport, and education became a focus. If that didn’t happen, I believe I would have been young, pregnant, and making poor life choices. That’s where my life was heading. They saved me.”
Despite leaving school early, with the support of her grandparents, Tara decided to pursue a long-held passion in woodwork and earned a level 3 certificate in carpentry from Tairawhiti Polytechnic. She enjoyed creating wooden furniture and many of her early pieces such as an outside recliner for her grandmother are still in the family home today.
Still young at this time she was recently married to husband Andy Collins and starting a family was a goal.
But that’s where the life plan became a little unstuck. Babies proved harder to come by than expected, and so with the building industry in a recession, Tara joined her painter decorator husband in his trade and they successfully carved out a life for themselves in Christchurch.
Childless, and with a desire to be closer to family, the pair returned to the North Island in 2014 and Tara became a caregiver at a resthome, first in Tauranga and then at Ryman in Gisborne.
“I didn’t initially have a burning desire for that kind of work but I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Tara remembers one day when an idea that was brewing … finally took hold. “I was slogging it out, showering and looking after residents, and I was often drenched in sweat and doing the heavy lifting. I looked at the nurses and I thought ‘Right, do I want to care give the rest of my life, or do I want to educate myself and move up the ranks?’”
“I think caregivers are wonderful. But I also knew that if I wanted the sort of life for myself that my grandparents had had, then I needed to get back into the workforce.”
By this time Tara and Andy had endured seven years of infertility and two years of fertility treatment.
“When I decided to go into nursing I thought ‘we’re probably not going to have kids, and so this is my back up plan’.”
Tara says she always struggled at English, maths and science at school so before attempting the degree she did the six-month New Zealand Certificate in Study and Career Preparation.
“I remember crying a lot during this time. My brother who was Year 11 at the time, had to help me with the maths.”
She slogged through, used rote learning, and held on to the vision that she would be the first person in her family to get a degree.
After finishing the foundation course Tara felt confident and enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing. She studied for six months of the three-year degree and then …. the unthinkable happened.
“Halfway through my first year, blimmin miracle, I got pregnant!”
Nine months later Tara and Andy introduced Gideon Bernard to the world (named after her grandfather of course) and if you can believe this, she had a daughter two years later.
Because of the delightful interruption of motherhood, it took Tara five years to do her degree. Much of it is a blur of nappies, note-taking, exams and excruciating tiredness, but through it all her grandparent’s belief in her was steadfast.
“It was their support which now means I try and inspire my younger siblings. I tell them I started from scratch, from nothing, and it’s there if you want to grab it.”
Tara joined Turanga Health late 2020 and has found herself immersed in a nursing model dedicated to ensuring a connection between an individual’s wellbeing, whanau and home.
“I wish I had done my nursing placements here,” she says. “Every day I get to see the difference that we can make by seeing people in their homes.”
She says further down the track she would like to pursue an interest in mental health nursing. Her passion is driven by personal and professional desire.
“I want to be involved in improving mental health and suicide statistics in New Zealand. In Gisborne we have lost friends to suicide. They were receiving services but it’s still not enough. With new research we can be trying new things and I want to be a part of that. We have to do better don’t we?”
This May, with her husband, children and grandparents in the audience, Tara Joy Collins will take part in the graduation ceremony to receive her Bachelor of Nursing.
“That’s going to be special. I take my hat off to my grandparents. I hope my children can also flourish in the path paved for me by my grandparents – then I will be happy.”
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