“I’m on cloud 9! I feel like I’m on an amazing journey and I’m ten times happier than I was before! I even got phoned up by Ngai Tahu to be interviewed on Close Up, what next?” said Larena. 15 years ago, Larena’s life was turned upside-down. Her husband died, leaving her with two young boys. “My husband did everything for us. I knew for the first time in my life that I had to be independent,” said Larena.

At a crossroads in her life, she needed to make the right decision. “I was brought up in a low income family,” she said, “and I was determined to be the best role model that I could be for my kids.”

Larena gingerly took her first step forward by picking up a cleaning job at a local gym which also gave her free gym membership; she said the physical exercise really helped her mentally too. As the children grew older, Larena increased her work hours and undertook further study. She spent the last two and a half years working at Mitre 10 as well as a part-time cleaner at a hospital.

Loading and unloading stock on pallets however was taking its toll on Larena’s health, so she began to look for a new career direction and contacted Barb, employment advisor, at Kingdom Resources.

“Barb was awesome,” said Larena. “Other employment agencies were quite impersonal. A one to one with Barb was so much better. She looked at my CV and by talking to me she could see what I liked,” she explained. Larena’s favourite work options were either being a painter or a role in social development.

After careful investigation, Larena signed up to the He Toki ki te Rika (Maori Trades Training) initiative, a 12 week programme. The course seemed ideal as it was funded by Ngai Tahu and she would be guaranteed a job at the end of it. Still needing an income while she studied, she managed to secure extra work at the hospital.

Larena recently graduated from the programme having secured work experience with Deco NZ, who offered her a full-time job on her second day! They also suggested to her the possibility of a two year apprenticeship. Excited, but a bit hesitant, Larena called Barb for advice.

“Barb suggested that the course would only take me so far, but an apprenticeship would set me up for the future. I knew I needed to be a qualified tradesman in order to participate in the Rebuild … I’d love to work in the Red Zone,” she said.

Larena is very thankful for the support of her boys, partner and everyone who has journeyed with her to become a painter. She is a fantastic role model to her boys and also to all women.

“If you’re really focused, you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” said Larena