Top award for tireless Mandy

Tireless, accessible and connected… those traits and more are why CommSafe community safety officer and all-round neighbourhood crusader, Mandy Merson, is the Te Awamutu News’ Person of the Year for 2021.

The title could have been made for her.  Striving to bring the people of Te Awamutu and Kihikihi together comes second only to her family, and Mandy tackles the job with flair.

In October, she held a Kihikihi Community Connect Day at the Kihikihi Domain, showcasing a raft of community groups and clubs alongside displays and family activities.  It was so successful that she wants to make it an annual event. “It was amazing … there has been a lot of good come out of it.”

She organises meetings and troubleshoots situations that threaten neighbourhood calm.  “It might be that people in a street are fearful, staying indoors because of the unsavoury behaviour of just a few.  While the police deal with those causing the problems, I try and bring together those whose lives are being impacted.  We navigate a way through, help residents feel more empowered to claim their street back.”

CommSafe – l-r John Barns-Graham, Jan Smith, Angus Smith, Mandy Merson, Wendy Graham, Stephanie Dickinson at the Kihikihi Community Connect Day.

Mandy supports CommSafe’s three-pronged approach to community cohesion – neighbourhood support, community patrols and CCTV, and usually works far more than her allotted 120 hours a month. None of it seems too much.  This year, she also took on the co-ordinating role for Operation Christmas Hampers. Despite the struggle associated with the uncertainty of Covid, the community has again supported the cause and the initiative has been able to successfully offer assistance to those in need.

Juggling so many balls at once is something Mandy takes in her stride.  Born in Thames and raised in Auckland, she cut her community service teeth in the scouting movement while working as a veterinary nurse and raising children.  She was Waikato Zone Scout Leader from 2010, when the family moved to the Waikato.  They moved to Te Awamutu just over four years ago and Mandy joined CommSafe in July last year. She still does vet nursing in a locum capacity.

“CommSafe has been a lot of work,” she admits.  “We work closely with the local police, but our role is principally to be the eyes and ears of the community, to hear their concerns and help find resolution. I found that so much of my experience in scouting set me up with the skills I need. When I was programme director for the last scouting jamboree at Mystery Creek, in 2019, we had 3880 kids there from all over the world.  It was awesome… and a challenge!”

Ryan Fleming

Mandy’s role acts as a bridge between the community and police. “So much of it is based on building relationships, breaking down misunderstandings… some of it takes time, but we’ve already had a number of successes.”

Her nominator for the award, community constable Ryan Fleming said: “This year has shown that communities are largely on their own in the first instance, and thanks to Mandy and her principles of connectedness, no-one has been left behind.  I can think of no recipient more worthy.”

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