Our People     Click on the photo to read the whole story

Aleesha Kostyrko-Jones

I first met Aleesha at a CCS Disability Action Youth meeting, preparing for their bi-annual conference which is called “The Gathering – Karanga Maha – Many Voices”. The Conference is to be held at Te Papa 8/9th of March, and will include two days of workshops (one of which I am facilitating), dialogue and presentations on key issues impacting disabled people – in particular young disabled people.

Aleesha mentioned that she was working as a chef in a hotel in Whangarei, which intrigued me, as I was wondering how she was able to manage that, working from a wheelchair.

Gabrielle "Gabby" Hogg

AUT student Gabrielle Hogg wants to make a difference. When she is not studying, Gabrielle has become an advocate for issues relating to autism and neural diversity.


Gabrielle has started her own organisation, Autistic Advocacy Network New Zealand, aimed at advocating for neuro-diversity and bringing the neuro-developmental community together to fight for better government policies. Gabrielle says the policies around funding do not cover the entire spectrum. “We’ve got a whole group of people missing out on funding,” she says.


Gaye Austin

For the past two years I have had the privilege of serving on the Workbridge Council with Gaye Austin, who is the representative for Deaf Aotearoa; a Disabled Persons Organisation, or DPO as they are commonly known.

Gaye lives in Christchurch, but was actually born in Invercargill where she completed all her schooling.  When Gaye was 12 years old, and in Form Two, (that is year eight in today’s language), she was diagnosed with having hearing loss due to a hereditary condition, prevalent in her family.  The condition is caused by a mitochondrial A7445G mutation, and she progressively lost her hearing, until she was profoundly Deaf in her mid twenties.


Jake Mills

Like many New Zealanders, who do not like to talk themselves up, Jake was shy and approached our interview with some trepidation.  However, ever since I first met Jake at the Be. Leadership graduation in 2013 I was struck by a maturity beyond his years.  


John Dolores

John was only 2lb 1oz (about a kilogram) when at birth was only given 10 days to live, as in those days technology wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now.  He was one of five premature babies in the ward and he was the only one to survive.  In 1951 they did not know about the effects on pressure within the incubator, which was too great, and burnt the retina in his eyes.  As he was growing up they diagnosed slight eye impairment, and until he was about 15 he could read and write quite well.  However it was at that age that he had two attacks of Glaucoma, which resulted in the  building up of pressure within his eyes, and as there is no “hole” for the fluid pressure to escape.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, as it was so painful.  I couldn’t eat nor drink, and eventually they had to rush me into hospital where they pierced my eyes to allow the pressure to reduce, but the damage had been done.  So from the age of 15 onwards all I can do is tell light from dark.”

Natalie Brunzel

My mother is a fourth generation New Zealander.  Like so many, she went on her OE, however hers lasted decades, rather than a few years. Only when we, my brother and I, became teenagers, did she decide to abandon the travel bug and come home.  Although I was born in South Africa I consider myself a Kiwi.

Having lived and been educated in South Africa, Egypt, Germany and New Zealand, I have wide cultural knowledge and speak English and German fluently.

Red Nicholson

As a parent some of the greatest joy comes from watching your child learn something new. Sometimes being a parent is extraordinarily hard and I often admired teachers and have thought to myself, I could never be a teacher with all those kids. But I hadn’t connected the ‘why’ as to why people teach until I heard Red speak at the Our Place conference in Wellington recently.

He spoke of wanting to be a great teacher, and the process of teaching children to be great learners. It was an interesting moment and I wanted to find out more about what ‘great’ was.


Ryan was born in Invercargill, and is a third or fourth generation Southlander, however the ancestry on his father’s side is Ngai Tahu - as one of his British ancestors founded Riverton, and married one of the local Maori Chief’s daughters, so his heritage stretches a lot further back than that.  

His father is a Chartered Accountant and his mother is an English teacher.  Ryan was never pressured to do accountancy, but his sister went down that line too.  In fact, Ryan credits both his parent’s careers as contributory to his own – from his mother, he gained the “wordsmith” skills, and his father was involved in the legal side of Accountancy.

Steff Green

Steff Green is a published author, blogger, copywriter, illustrator, heavy metaller, alternative wedding celebrant, archaeologist, collector of medieval swords, house builder, lifestyle farmer, brewer of mead, ginger beer and wines...and she is also legally blind.

Wendy Neilson and Paul Curry

The Bay of Plenty is lucky to have two individuals passionate and committed to people with disabilities.  Wendy and Paul organised a couple of workshops in March 2015, looking at issues facing the disabled, and employment was the primary area of concern.

This lead to a Disability Employment Summit, held in October that year, was supported by the Tauranga District Council, Iwi, Central Government Agencies, employers, and many organisations involved in disability issues as well as people with disabilities.  They created an Employment Task Force, to create real change...