Everyone Has A Story

24 Jul 2017

Once upon a time, in a town far away, I was a school teacher. And while it seems like a lifetime ago, it wasn’t really – because I refuse to believe I’m that old. Anyway, for your information (because I’m sure you’re interested) the short history of my teaching journey went like this:

I finished high school and applied to get into Teachers’ College. They kindly welcomed me with open arms (they were obviously desperate!) but then in a moment of clarity, I decided that it wasn’t really for me. So, I pulled the pin and went farming in the King Country instead. The bottom fell out of farming, so I headed back up to Auckland to try Teachers’ College again. This time I only just scraped in because I cracked a joke about women and equal rights in my interview. It went down like a lead balloon, as I’m sure you could imagine.

Anyway, I managed to convince the selection panel that I wasn’t a male chauvinist pig (the bane of all modern educators) and was a worthy applicant. I made it through my three years training without too many issues, largely by focussing on PE, Outdoor Ed and making musical instruments. These were all far more interesting subjects than maths and literacy. Upon finishing my study, I wound up teaching in South Auckland for the next few years …

While I’ve never been fond of paperwork, I loved working with kids. I was incredibly fortunate to end up in a school in Manurewa (my hometown – ‘Rewa hard!) with an amazing principal who understood my distaste for the ministry’s love of administration. She would give me time to get my planning in order – and in return, I took on some kids who were, in a nutshell, really hard work. At least, they were for some teachers.

Luckily, I really enjoyed these ‘rough-around-the-edges’ tamariki. They had spunk, they were tough, and (once you’d won them over!) they were incredibly loyal. But at times, they were really hard work. And sadly, many of them came from broken, dysfunctional homes.

Somebody once told me that everyone has a story. And as teachers, we needed to find out those stories, because they can help explain a child’s behaviour. I clearly remember a girl I taught in a previous school getting caught stealing. Stuff had been going missing over the past few days from kid’s bags and this young lady was caught red-handed. Due process was followed and she ended up in pretty big trouble. But during the process, I happened to find out a bit of her story …

This 12-year-old girl had been used by her grandmother since she was five to break into houses. She’d get pushed through small toilet windows when the occupants were out, and taught to go to the front door and unlock it. The rest of the family would then come in and rob it. Explains things a bit, eh.

I had children in my class who’d come to school stoned. Not because they were naughty kids having a ‘toke’ early in the morning, but because their mum and her partner would smoke dope at the breakfast table and blow it into their children’s faces for a laugh. Even her toddler.

Kids would sometimes turn up with bruises and black eyes – and it wasn’t because they’d slipped down the stairs, or tripped and landed on the coffee table. And I had one beautiful young girl attempt to hang herself at home … she was only 10-years-old and couldn’t handle the bullying.

So, things were pretty messy at times.

One of the more difficult parts of being a teacher, at least for me, was the sense of helplessness you’d feel at times. I grew to love ‘my kids’ – and while I could look after them from 9am to 3pm, after that they were out of my care, and sometimes stink things happened to them. And it was even more heart-wrenching when those things happened at home.

You see, a child’s home should be a safe place for them. It should be the location of a loving family, and a refuge from all the bad stuff ‘out there’. But sadly, that’s not the case for many kids in this country.

Our SCHOOLS & PRESCHOOLS PROJECT is our attempt to reach more families at the coal-face. And as a used-to-be teacher, I can tell you first-hand that I wish I had something like Grapevine to send home with the kids I was teaching. To get those mags into the hands of their parents could’ve made a difference to at least some of those families. How do I know this? Because as a dad and husband, Grapevine has made a difference to ME!

Now, you could say I’m biased – and maybe I am! But the truth is, Grapevine is a fantastic resource – especially for parents. And all these years reading positive, creative, practical, and helpful articles have made me a better Dad and a better husband.

So, this is why I’m such a believer … and why I believe our SCHOOLS AND PRESCHOOLS PROJECT is one of the most exciting breakthroughs that Grapevine’s had in years!

This project is giving us the chance to deliver Grapevine to new generations of Kiwi parents. Selected schools and preschools are being offered bulk copies of Grapevine each quarter – free of charge – to be used where they’re most needed. And the response from teachers and staff has been overwhelming. They see Grapevine as a valuable resource … they can’t get enough copies … and those copies are being sent home (with their warm encouragement) to mums and dads via the kids.

A massive 55,000 copies of the latest Grapevine were requested by 1250 enthusiastic schools and preschools! And, with thousands more schools and preschools yet to be approached, those numbers are set to grow. However, it’s not cheap, packing 55,000 Grapevines into bundles (average 50 copies) and sending them by courier to schools and preschools all over the country. In fact, it costs us roughly $75 per bundle. But, with YOUR help, we can make it happen.

These are exciting times for us - and this is an exciting challenge! We'd love for you to join us in our Schools and Preschools Project if you can. In the meantime, THANK YOU to all our supporters … in anticipation! You’re helping us make a difference. You’re contributing to one of the most important ‘breakthroughs’ we’ve had in years – getting magazines into the hands of families at the coalface.    



Mike Cooney (Editor)

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Farewell Old Friend

06 Jul 2015

Last week was a bit of a tough one – at least it was for this Cooney family. You see, after she had provided 16 years of protection, affection and plenty of entertainment, we had to say goodbye to our number one dog, Lenka. 

She’d been part of the landscape longer than any of our pets (and children!), and had arrived all those years ago as a cute, yet feisty, young pup. Part Rhodesian ridgeback, Doberman, bull terrier and Smithfield terrier, she was a mongrel of outstanding pedigree and thought she ruled the world.

Lenka (which means ‘love’) was named after a remarkable Yugoslavian girl I taught many years ago. While she (the dog!) loved us more than anything and was affectionate with most people (unless you were up to no good), there was no love lost between her and other dogs. She viewed most of them as trespassers in her kingdom, and any that refused to bow to her majesty (especially bitches) were promptly dealt with – no matter how big.

Spending most of her life on farms, Lenka developed a taste for rabbits and possums, and would almost dig her way to China to nibble on a tasty young bunny. I had many wake-up calls in the middle of the night, with Lenka (having ‘treed’ a possum) sitting there barking until I staggered out in my boxers, with my .22 and torch, and finished the job. She loved nothing better. Me? Not so much …

Lenka was pretty tough. When she was young I ran her over in my Landcruiser. Fearing the worse (upon finding her hiding in her kennel) I took her to the vet, who, after a bit of poking and prodding, declared her to be okay (except for some internal bruising). However, from that day forward she hated the vet, and would have to be muzzled or held tightly to stop her biting him.

She loved the kids, and would let them dress her up or tow them around on their skateboards – and not once did she complain or show any aggression. Although, if you tried to take her food off her, she’d let you know with a growl or two … but hey, so do I!

She’d had a great life – no doubt about that – and a long one, too! But finally, old age and an unrelenting tumour got the better of her. The kids all knew it was coming and we’d prepared them for the inevitable. On her final day, they each said their goodbyes and fed her a strip of streaky bacon before heading off to school. My wife (who’s not too good with these things) disappeared to visit some friends, and I spent the morning digging a flawless grave – perfectly rectangle with straight, clean corners. It was, after all, the least I could do. Lenka came over to see me while I was digging, (which didn’t help), but I hope my work passed her inspection.

I’d arranged for a good mate to come over and put her down for me, but that morning I felt it was something I needed to do – not for any weird, macabre reason, but because it just seemed right. Lenka trusted me during her life, and I figured she’d trust me with her death. Her last sleep came quickly and painlessly, and as I laid her gently in her final resting place, I took a moment …

It’s always tough saying goodbye to a much-loved pet – although, to be honest, I’m pretty good at switching off my emotions when necessary. But on this occasion, I set aside my usual impassive response and let it all hang out … so to speak! (Luckily, I pulled myself together just as the mail-lady drove up my driveway. There is a limit, you know! We westerners are great at embracing life, but not so good with death … but that’s another story for another time.)

One of the things I loved most about Lenka (and this is true for most well-loved dogs) was her loyalty. No matter my mood, my threats, the beatings she occasionally got for killing a chicken, or how many times she was ignored, she had an undying loyalty that was there till the end. Even with her failing health, she’d wobble her way over for a pat, tail wagging and eyes looking adoringly. It’s a powerful virtue, loyalty.

It’s also something that’s been an powerful part of Grapevine’s success – the loyalty of staff (particularly in the days when pay-checks weren’t always reliable!) … the loyalty of family (who often endured mince-on-toast for weeks, wearing homemade clothes and having no TV, while their loved-one followed a dream!) … and most importantly, the loyalty of our supporters – some who’ve recently joined us, and others who’ve been here since the beginning.

It goes without saying that, if you guys and gals hadn’t stuck with us through thick and thin, good times and bad, we wouldn’t be here today. And there’s no doubt about it: your belief in the Grapevine dream has produced some amazing results. We’ve now published well in excess of 50 million magazines (that still blows my mind!); we still have one of the highest magazine print-runs in the country; we’ve delivered free mags to pretty much every home in the country; more and more schools and early-childhood centres are signing up to our free bulk magazine campaign; the positive feedback is still pouring in; a brand-new, super-flash website will be live later this month; and, our little magazine just keeps getting better!

Can I remind you? You’ve played a huge part in these results! And can I encourage you? Keep partnering with us in our dream of giving Kiwi families a lift, all over New Zealand. Together, we can promote stable, loving relationships … tackle family hurts and headaches in a positive, helpful way … inject fun, hope and wholeness into homes all over the country!

So THANK YOU for your loyalty!

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Lessons From Shackleton

06 Jul 2015

I’m not sure I’d be too far off the mark if I suggested that men of great character who are equally great role-models, are a little hard to come by in the 21st century – and especially hard to find with those who are in the public eye!

However, if you take a quick look back in history, you’ll find a number of remarkable men worth aspiring to – and one of my favourites, is the great explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

For those who don’t know the story that made him famous, in August 1914, Shackleton set out on his expedition with the goal of being the first man to traverse the Antarctic continent on foot. Aboard his ship, named Endurance, he and 27 men set sail for the South Pole.

But along the way, the ship became trapped in ice, setting off a series of events that would become one of exploration’s greatest stories of survival.

While he didn’t complete the journey he’d hoped for, he brought back all 27 of his men alive – an amazing feat of leadership that’s without parallel.

For nearly two years, Shackleton and his men were stranded off the coast of Antarctica. His rescue attempts are fraught with danger and seem almost Hollywood-like, they’re that surreal!

His is a story of hope … progress … then crushing setback. Hope … progress and once again … crushing setback. This was Shackleton’s reality for nearly two years and such a string of endless disappointments would’ve made most men, want to curl up and die. But he refused to let his spirit be defeated.

Ernest Shackleton as a role-model? Now that’s a man worth aspiring to!

NOTE: If you want to learn about more of this fascinating story, check out his book 'South!'

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Black Hole

03 Jul 2015

Saw this programme a while back. About this nice family who sold up, quit their high-powered jobs, and went bush with their kids – living simply and self-sufficiently six hours from the nearest shop. 

My cup of tea? Nah, not really. I’m too fond of my comfort and mod-cons. But every now and then I sense that something’s missing. I mean, look at us:

We work at a pace we wish we didn’t have to … to earn money that’s never enough … to buy things we don’t really need … to impress people we don’t really like. We put so much effort into having a good time, it fair wears us out.

We’re like Bono in that U2 song: ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for …’

He explained it once in an interview: “You don’t become a rock star unless you’ve got something missing, that’s obvious to me. If you were a more complete person, you could feel normal without 70,000 people a night screaming their love for you.

“Blaise Pascal called it a God-shaped hole,” says Bono. “Everyone’s got one, but some are blacker and wider than others. It’s a feeling of being abandoned, cut adrift in space and time. I was like the character in that old blues song, ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child …’

“My own hole can still open up. I don’t think you ever completely fill it. You can try – with songs, family, faith, and a full life. But when things are silent you can still hear the hissing of what’s missing …”

Ouch – touché! Bono’s words seem to echo Saint Augustine’s: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless ‘til they find their rest in thee.”

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