Heretaunga Women’s Centre’s new manager Vicki Berkahn is on a mission to help other women on their journey of personal and professional development.
BayBuzz recently interviewed Berkahn while she is still finding her feet (having started her new role in late November) and aiming to address challenges faced by the centre staff and volunteers.
Her background includes managing a General Practice in Hawke’s Bay and working with Māori Mental Health and Addiction services specialising in gambling harm.
“I wanted a change into a different kaupapa, and being a woman myself, thought it would be a good fit.”
Berkahn, who has encountered a few challenges since she started, intends to face them head-on.
“Women are confused about what the centre is, and what we do. I want to change that perception. I am working on a marketing and comms strategy, so the community is clear on what the centre is, what we offer and what we are here for,” she said.
She said the general perception was the centre catered to the more vulnerable members of the community and was anti-men, making a point of noting that most men were loving, caring members of society.
“We can be mistaken for Women’s Refuge, but we aren’t. We have a network of around 40 volunteers, mostly professional retirees, from different backgrounds,” she said.
“We are here for all women in the Heretaunga community to help them on their journey of personal development. And personal development is unique for every woman. We are about connecting women with other women outside of fixed roles in daily life. Walking through the door, we might all look different, but we are all women,” she said.
“2024 is a continuation of the transformation of women’s centre into attaining a wider range of connections.”
She said part of helping women out in their professional and personal development included offering services run by professionals like financial services, Te ao Māori, craft, and others.
“Heretaunga Women’s Centre is hoping to be a bit more innovative, appealing to a wider-reach, particularly business community by empowering women to ask for things like a pay rise, better working arrangements, and professional development.”
Berkahn has a post graduate degree in occupational psychology and is passionate about it.
She also wanted staff and volunteers to feel safe while helping others.
“Safety is an issue at the women’s centre. Because we are in the CBD, we are highly accessible to everyone in the community. It’s good being accessible, but bad in terms of attracting loiterers, anti-social behaviour, homelessness – people regularly sleeping on the veranda.”
She said her aspiration was to work with Hastings District Council who owned the HWC building to find a solution.
“I shall be reaching out to the council to seek funding through the annual plan process and to discuss ways in which we can improve security,” she said.
Berkahn also wanted to put submissions to the government on legislative changes impacting women.
“What we are also seeking is pay parity for our health professionals that work with us as an NGO. We are seeking longer-term contracts. Currently we are primarily supported by grants and donations; we need longer-term funding from government.”
With women paving the way in leadership in Hawke’s Bay, Berkahn intends to approach Katie Nimon and Catherine Wedd to talk to them how best the needs for women can be prioritised, and how they can be empowered.
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