by Helen Martin
With a Dutch father and a Samoan mother, New Zealand-born Alex van Dam and her four siblings have grown up in a rich cultural mix. “I’ve been taught and inspired by my grandparents, Bill and Terese van Dam and Tupa’i Iosefo and Etevise Auva’a, by my Oma and Opa, Hess and Reik van Dam, and by my parents Dave and Retts, to live a good life,” explains Alex. “From a young age, I had a sense of purpose to do good in the world, and a dream to change it to become a better place.”
Other strong influences shaping twenty-six-year-old Alex’s thinking include her family’s Catholic faith and their passion for music. Alex benefited from the strong musical culture fostered at Kaipara College and acknowledges her music teacher Nick Roberts as an inspiration. “We’re a musical family,” says Alex. “My mum is a registered music therapist and my parents and I take our turn leading Mass at St Joseph’s Church.”
Alex credits a church member, the late Gavan Spillane, a former missionary, with providing her with direction when, part way through a Bachelor of Education, she realised teaching was not for her. “I’d gone off the rails a bit when I first left home and Gavan steered me back to my faith and gave me work milling timber and delivering firewood at his timber yard in Helensville.”
Alex’s next opportunity came when she accepted an offer in 2013 to become involved in South Kaipara Youth (SkYouth) as a part-time, paid youth worker, a job she still holds and loves. SkYouth Charitable Trust runs a life-skills based programme offering rangatahi (youth) experiences that grow their understanding of wairua (spirituality) and fosters manaakitanga (hospitality, trust, kindness and concern for one another within the wider community), Alex explains. To meet these objectives the group meet with Alex on Thursday evenings, where Christian-based teachings and the teachings of the tipuna (ancestors) guide their practical experiences, social activities and community involvement. In one example of their activities, last year SkYouth dreamed up and ran a very successful community Fathers’ Day skate competition at Ruatawhiri Park. Plans are afoot for a larger skate comp this year in collaboration with other community groups. Recently, Alex travelled to Thailand with former SkYouth member Qunique Monga-Tawara under the Habitat for Humanity scheme (see front page story). To further her options in this work, Alex is now planning to gain a Youth Certificate qualification.
Out-of-work interests include the Fire Service – Alex is a senior firefighter and one of three women in the Helensville Fire Brigade. She has competed in the annual Fire Fighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge for four years and enjoys pushing herself physically in sport. She boxes at Shone’s Boxing Gym in Kumeu and has so far had four fights (“Stepping into the ring is an amazing feeling, scary but a great adrenalin rush”), swims most mornings at Parakai Springs, enjoys 5km runs around Helensville and plays social soccer.
Inspired by her parents, who met through Bill van Dam’s management of St Vincent de Paul in Auckland and were instrumental in starting ‘Young Vinnies’ there, five years ago Alex founded a local St Vincent de Paul conference in St Joseph’s, Helensville. “With Gavan Spillane and John Smith’s guidance we became a very strong group. Our projects included cook-ups, where we would cook 100 meals for people in our community to be distributed to local groups like the Angel fund. We regularly visited Craigweil House and played music with the residents. We delivered firewood, dismantled sheds, visited the sick and elderly and did our best to help anyone who needed a hand. Vinnies is about being involved in your own community, serving people with love and respect and taking time out of your day to really be present with someone.” While the group has faltered in the past year, Alex is keen to get it moving again. She’d like to hear from anyone who would like to be part of Vinnies, (you don’t have to be a church goer, Vinnies is for everyone). Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org