Red Cross Community Development Worker Mary Nicholas can’t choose a favourite part of her job. It’s not because she doesn’t enjoy her work – in fact, it’s the opposite.

“There are so many!” Mary says. “It could be seeing the look on mums’ faces when they accomplish something they have never tried before, like growing their own food in the community garden or watching their children play on a playground they helped advocate for. Or it could be seeing a community united to stop family violence creating billboards and sharing positive messages.”

Based in Rotorua, Mary’s work with Red Cross encompasses a wide variety of things. At the core of her role is a simple mission: helping communities make positive changes and grow stronger together.

“It’s about promoting community-led development, mobilising local residents to take action that strengthens connectedness, promotes leadership and reduces vulnerabilities,” she explains.

“We work collaboratively with other organisations, institutions and the council to make a positive impact and improve the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in the community.”

On a day-to-day basis, Mary can be found working on a range of projects – everything from running cooking workshops from community hubs, upcycling second hand clothing with school students for Wearable Arts, collaborating with community stakeholders to file a liquor licence objection to getting bikes into schools and working with youth to develop community leadership skills.

A big aspect of her job is making sure the momentum for any change or project comes from the community, she says.

The role involves knowing when to lead, when to walk alongside and when to walk away. Building relationships and being a good listener are significant parts of the work, but the most essential part is leading change with the voices of the community. This way of working promotes ownership for change and is more likely to be repeated and sustainable.

Mary has a busy year ahead of her, with the role taking her to communities throughout the Bay of Plenty region. She’s looking forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

“I am passionate about community development. This role allows me to explore opportunities as they arise in the community and help make a positive impact.”

New Zealand Red Cross works in communities across Aotearoa. Find out how you can get involved in your area and help make a difference.