A growing partnership February 2020


Sweetie Loeak and Jordan MacDonald bagging seedlings in the central Whangarei nursery, signing the word “tree”.

Jordan MacDonald probably didn’t expect running a native plant nursery would lead to learning a new language. Jordan is an environmental educator and Manager at He Kākano Community Nursery. And Sweetie Loeak, who mostly communicates through New Zealand Sign Language, is her “very hard-working and most regular volunteer”.

Sweetie has been volunteering at He Kākano, the native plant nursery for the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust, since 2018 when she first registered with Volunteering Northland. Sweetie, who started off using the services of a sign interpreter in her role, quickly established herself as a valuable team member and went on to teach Jordan basic Sign Language. Jordan followed up the learning processes with an 8 week sign language class. Although Jordan remains modest about her ability, she appears quite fluent when signing and having a laugh with Sweetie at the nursery.

Sweetie has lived in New Zealand for 5 years. She has an adult daughter in Auckland and is in regular contact with her extended family in mainland USA, Hawaii, Marshall Islands and Guam. Alongside her hobbies of jewellery making and coffee, Sweetie cherishes her friendships within the deaf community, and loves volunteering as it provides her with regular contact with the wider community.

Sweetie’s particular joy volunteering at He Kākano is in seeing the fruits of her labour; watching the native plants grow from seeds she has collected and planted, to witnessing the riparian planting projects all around Whangarei. Her other favourite activities include seed collecting trips and of course the Christmas party and other celebrations they have as a team.

Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust are always looking for extra helpers on Fridays at He Kākano. The work is in a fun, friendly and safe environment. Mountains to Sea also have plenty of community planting days during the winter season and share their seedlings with other community groups.

As for Sweetie, you can also find her gardening on a monthly basis at North Haven Hospice in Tikipunga, as well as joining in the regular volunteer days supporting the restoration efforts on Matakohe/Limestone Island.

All these organisations deeply value the volunteers that work with them. If you would like to volunteer and are not sure where to start call in to the friendly team at Volunteering Northland now based in the Civic Arcade on Bank St. They can guide you through the hundreds of opportunities to see where you can make a difference.

Story by Trish Clarke, Volunteering Northland.