IT is about the people.
Orphans Aid International (OAI) charity shop manager Kathryn Casey is about to say goodbye to more than a decade of charity work, to farewell her volunteers and a chapter of personal and professional growth.
It is with mixed emotions she is leaving the much-loved Spey St shop and its volunteers.
But it was time, Kathryn said, it was a new season.
She leaves an immense legacy.
For Kathryn, working at the Invercargill branch of the international aid organisation which supported orphans in Asia, Africa and Europe with the hope of placing them into loving families or homes, had been much more than simply a job… it had been a calling.
“I first met (OAI founder) Sue (van Schreven), when she came to thank us for raising money from a garage sale for OAI.
“I really wanted to do more, but didn’t know what that would look like.
“Then Sue asked me to manage the (Tay St) shop, but I had no confidence or skills, so was hesitant.”
Kathryn said she “prayed about it” and felt it was the right thing to do.
“Everything just fell into place… I believe God put me here (in Orphans Aid).”
Originally at the back of a shop in Tay St, the OAI charity shop was not an easy place to find.
With no natural light, and a leaky building, only those who sought out the outlet knew where it was.
This was before visiting recycling or second-hand shops was trendy.
Kathryn began her 12-year sojourn as a volunteer manager of the shop at the beginning of 2008.
“I was a volunteer manager for a year because the shop was not earning enough, and I felt that I had to prove I could do the job.
“The time came when I was given a part-time wage.”
But the “paid” hours were irrelevant, with Kathryn putting in extra hours due to various projects and the shop’s need which went beyond a manager’s role.
As well as overseeing the volunteers who sorted the goods which came in and were sold, there were also deliveries and pick-ups, customer service and ensuring the smooth running of the shop… and the events.
Having conceived and organised many events, including pop-up shops on Stewart Island and boutique pop-up shops in Invercargill, as well as evolving the Upcycle Fashion Awards and speaking at many clubs and church groups, eventually, Kathryn became the “face of Orphans Aid in Invercargill”.
“There has been an extreme amount of work raising (OAI’s) profile… the shop… and its work.”
In June 2011, the shop was relocated to its current Spey St address.
“It was my idea to move. We outgrew the Tay St premises and we needed to move to expand.”
However, with the Spey St shop being four times the size, it was daunting.
“How are we going to fill the place,” was her first thought, Kathryn said.
“It was basically a leap of faith… to step right out.”
But stock kept flowing through the doors and it was “sheer determination” which drove Kathryn to “grow the business”.
Travelling to Asia on three occasions to see some of OAI’s projects first hand, inspired Kathryn to raise its profile and funds more.
“I was driven by my trips to India.”
It was the challenge of “what can I do now”.
The first trip was to India and Nepal in 2009, followed by another to India and Bhutan, then in 2018 Darjeeling and the Bhutan border visited some of the projects where the charity fed, offered medical assistance, education and housed many children, some of whom were refugees from Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.
“On the second trip, I ended up filming for the documentary as (the television documentary maker) Rob Harley got sick and couldn’t make it.
“It was nerve wracking as I hadn’t done anything like that before, but it had to be done.
“I was surprised they used a lot of the film in one of the documentaries.”
However, supporting overseas charity work was only half of the role of the shop, Kathryn believed.
I have always tried to create an environment for the volunteers of acceptance and love… really mixing in with a huge amount of laughter and humour.
As well as helping those overseas and giving back to the local community, volunteering at the shop had given some the chance to meet new people, build friendships, and for others, it had been a place of healing.
“I have always tried to create an environment for the volunteers of acceptance and love… really mixing in with a huge amount of laughter and humour.
“Some of our volunteers joined us after their husbands died… Being here has given them the chance to rebuild in a place where they feel they belong,” Kathryn said.
So what will she miss the most?
It would be the volunteers, she said.
“It is the volunteers which make this place what it is.”
During the past 12 years, Kathryn had seen “hundreds” of volunteers.
“We focus on each person’s strengths and assign them tasks which complement their talents.”
Kathryn credits her team for the shops’ success saying “it comes down to manpower and volunteers… I have had an excellent team with me all the way…”.
For the past six months she has been training as a chaplain for Workplace Support in preparation for her next calling.
“The door literally flung open (for the chaplaincy position)… and I have started my 150 hours as a volunteer.”
However, tomorrow will be Kathryn’s last at the shop.
“I will hand over the keys to the shop and van…
“I knew it would be hard to leave, but talking about it… it is harder than I initially thought it would be.”
Kathryn thanked her husband, Brian, and her family for the support they “have given me through this incredible journey”.
She also thanked OAI founders Sue and Carl van Schreven for the opportunities she had through her involvement with Orphans Aid, “for the skills I have gained, and the experiences I have had”.
“I wish them and Orphans Aid all the best for the future.”