By Holly Shan
On the accommodation website Booking.com, Whitianga Motel has an 8.8/10 rating from nearly 150 reviews. It seems that guests are most impressed by the friendly owners and gave an exceptional 9.7 rating to the category of staff. Ross McCook, along with his wife, Susan are the owners. Ross, who is the Manager during the week whilst Sue works in Auckland, talked with The Informer last week.
Ross and Sue are both Aucklanders, but for Ross, Whitianga has been his “home away from home” for over 50 years. Ross’ family holidayed from Auckland every year since he was a young boy. His parents eventually came to live in Whitianga in the early 80s’. Nowadays, his Mother, 87-year-old Barbara McCook, is still active in the community, working and volunteering at the St Andrews Op Shop. Her late husband is buried up on the hill at Ferry Landing.
The childhood memories of fun and nostalgic attachment brought Ross and Sue to Whitianga two years ago. They purchased the motel to start a new journey as they thought about future retirement. The motel is their business, but also their home. Ross says, “While Sue is still working in Auckland, I run the motel. The previous owner had closed the doors of the business the day before covid lockdown and put it up for sale. It was closed for two years. “So we bought a motel, not a business,” says Ross. “ Covid was so tough for the hospitality industry unless you were a quarantine (MIQ) centre.” Ross won’t forget the first winter under their ownership. “No one came in,but it’s different now. Two years have passed, but finally, we have gotten things back on track.
For Ross and Sue, their five-unit motel is “a humble hotel that we have made into good class accommodation for families.” Ross excitedly shared the life he and Sue have outside of their motel management.
Heart For Youth Charitable Trust (H4Y). Currently 20-25 young people are being supported by volunteer mentors from the Trust. These young people are referred to H4Y from Oranga Tamariki, school counsellors, or other organizations like Women’s Refuge or Shine (a family harm prevention side of Women’s Refuge). Many are victims of domestic abuse.For the mentors, it is at least a 12-month commitment. They are recruited through social media advertisements and personal word of mouth. The Trust offers free training for the volunteers, who are vetted carefully before starting the work. The mentors meet up once a week or fortnightly. Meeting in person face-to-face is encouraged but it can also be through a phone call. On many occasions, the mentor has wanted to continue after the first year. Some kids, who were actually part of the programme and were mentored, have gone on to become mentors themselves. Generally, “the outcomes of mentoring are phenomenal,” said Ross.
In answering The Informer’s “Why mentoring?” question, Ross shared his own story. “I had a really challenging time as a young person myself. I was fortunate enough to have an older brother 10 years my senior and a couple of his mates who mentored me and did a lot of amazing fun things. Most of it was around the Coromandel – exploring, fishing and diving.” Ross says, “I experienced the positivity from mentoring first hand. Mentoring can save a life.” I started helping a friend who ran a Child, Youth and Family home and I just helped the boys he was looking after. I could not believe how hungry they were for friendship and support. One day I took some of the boys out sea biscuiting. One of them came to me and said, ‘this was the best day of his life’. I got to thinking that it had not taken very much to create that ‘best day of his life.’ From there, Ross started helping young people through mentoring on a volunteering basis. Then, twenty years ago, Ross and Sue decided to commit the rest of our lives to helping adults to do the same thing. They set up their Trust - Heart For Youth Charitable Trust. Ross became a speaker, facilitator and trainer - the lead trainer for the National Youth Mentoring Network which is connected to their Trust, but independent of it. Now, their Whitianga Motel is also part of their big dream. “When we bought the hotel, we came up with this idea of everyone that stays here, $5 of their fee comes out of our Motel and goes back into the charity. It enables a family or person to come and stay free or at a very low price.” Recently, a mother with her three children, who had not had a holiday for 15 years, was referred to the McCook’s from Women’s Refuge. They spent a very quality time in Coromandel.Ross and Sue want to introduce this idea to others. They also hope to set up a Mentor Training Programme in Whitianga.
“Why do people want to become mentors?’poses Ross, “They give either of two answers, both diametrically opposite but both are valid. 1) ‘I grew up on the rough side of life and mentors really helped me and enabled me to get though and manage my life.’
2) ‘I was really fortunate to have a stable upbringing and a lot of support . So for that reason I want to give back.’ Both reasons work effectively,”says Ross.
From the motel business to the Trust, they are eager to help people. Their Trust receives support from Lotteries, government funds and donations. About one-third of the Trust’s funding comes from everyday people who believe in what they are doing. “We have a Lots-of-Little fund. The theme is - LOTS OF people giving a LITTLE making A HUGE DIFFERENCE. Our motel is able to do so. That’s very cool.”