Sunday, 05 April 2020


Driving the community for more than 20 years

For 20 plus years Whitianga resident, Helen Rapana, has quietly gone about her role as a volunteer driver for Whitianga Social Services. Her dedication to the cause has certainly not gone unnoticed by senior staff of the organisation over such a long period, but it’s not in Helen’s nature to seek the limelight, instead preferring to just simply get on with the job.  

Helen’s two decades of service was recently officially recognised recently with a morning tea and a presentation of flowers by the manager of Whitianga Social Services, Sheryll Fitzpatrick.  “I had a feeling something was up when I was asked to attend a special morning tea,” says Helen. “It was nice to be acknowledged for my long service, but I don’t like to be made a fuss of and I know my work is appreciated by all concerned, so that’s all that matters to me.”

Helen’s impressive effort has involved clocking up anywhere between 30,000km to 50,000km a year in her own motor vehicle. Over 20 years, at an average of 40,000km per year, that’s a staggering 800,000 kilometres travelled. “I receive a running cost allowance which covers my main vehicle expenses, plus I love driving, so for me it’s a great way to do something for the community that I really enjoy,” Helen says.

Just as outstanding is Helen’s clean driving record with no misdemeanours issued during the past two decades, despite some of the poor driver behaviour she has encountered over the years. “I’m always on the lookout for the idiots,” she says. 

Helen’s travels, driving people to medical and specialist appointments plus day procedures, can cover a wide distance, including trips to Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua and Thames return.  “I do whatever it takes to get the job done and there is never a rush,” she says. “The patients always come first and I’m happy to sit with them, help fill out paper work if needed or find a quiet place to relax until they are ready to be collected and head back home. It’s a door to door service which can stretch as far as Whangapoua and Cooks Beach, and over time I have learned the best ways to put my passengers at ease, many of whom are going through some fairly stressful times.”

Sheryll is full of praise for Helen’s work and dedication. “All our volunteers give up their own time freely and don’t expect any special recognition, but Helen’s 20-year spell is truly outstanding,” she says. “Words really don’t express the huge contribution people like Helen make to our communities and without them we would be a lot poorer.”

Helen is not unaccustomed to hard work and long hours. Born into a farming family she has always been prepared to give almost anything a go. “I would rather dig a drain than apply for a job as a house cleaner, but apart from that I have had a variety of jobs in the past, many of which involved hard manual work and long hours,” she says. “I even gave sandblasting a go once and have worked at both the Coroglen and Whitianga pubs, the OPC seafood processing plant and local takeaway shops over the years. Most of my jobs have involved having the sleeves rolled up and nose to the grindstone for long spells, which is what I prefer.”    

In her 38 years of living in Whitianga, Helen has also involved herself in other voluntary work, including many years on the Mercury Bay Club Committee and also operating the Coastguard radio for around 16 years. She was once a competitive darts and pool player.

Helen is the first to point out she isn’t the only person working in the community on a voluntary basis, but her 20 years of safely transporting hundreds of our residents with care and compassion is pretty special, and lucky for us, Helen says there are still plenty more miles in the tank.

Pictured: Helen Rapana has been a volunteer driver for Whitianga Social Services for more than 20 years.


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