Ask Murray why he volunteers his time and expertise to help his community, and he’ll ask you why so many people don’t.
“I’m honestly surprised there aren’t a lot more—blokes, in particular, there’s a dearth of blokes who are in this sort of stuff,” he said. “To me, it just makes good sense and it’s very rewarding to try and make a difference in people’s lives.”
These days you’re likely to find Murray setting up a breakfast spread at a local school first thing in the morning, befriending kids in a community where many go without breakfast. But his days looked very different before he had a big “reset” 4 years ago.
“I was working flat-tack running the business I set up, from about 7 in the morning to about 7 at night,” he said. “It was just full-on.”
Murray’s career began at Police College in the 1970s. After 8 years with the Police, he moved into the corporate world and became tertiary qualified. He spent about 10 years at Heinz Wattie’s, working his way up from recruitment and personnel management to heading up HR in New Zealand. He also headed up HR for Ansett NZ and was National Employee Relations Manager for Tegel Foods.
When he left Wattie’s in 2006, he set up his own HR company and co-ran that for 11 years.
He marked the end of that chapter with an overseas trip with his wife.
“It really gave me a chance to think about what I was going to do afterwards,” he said.
Murray’s wife was the General Manager of Social Services for Presbyterian Support East Coast, and through her experiences, he discovered what the social safety nets do—and don’t—cover.
“If you need new tyres or an engine overhaul for a car, your benefit doesn’t provide for that,” he said. “There are some people who, for a variety of reasons, either make poor choices or otherwise swim against the tide.”
As he considered his options, he knew this much: those were the people he wanted to help. So when Murray and his wife returned home, he began setting up the breakfast programme in a school where 100 of the 330 enrolled children lived in a low-income area.
“Regardless of circumstances or decisions that are made, no kid deserves to come to school hungry,” he said. “If they’ve got full tummies, they’re going to be less disruptive and can assimilate information.”
Murray oversees a team of volunteers who also want to make a positive difference in their community, serving Weetbix donated by Sanitarium, top-grade bread and spreads and milk from local supermarkets.
“The rapport you build with the kids is just great,” he said. “If you see them outside of school, they’ll come up and give you a big hug. They’re wonderful kids.”
Volunteering is a way of life now for Murray. He regularly walks Te Mata Peak, so he found a way to turn those outings into more than exercise. He’s one of the people who monitors the bait stations there.
He’s also involved with the Hawkes Bay Community Christmas Lunch, overseen by Age Concern. The annual affair began for older people who would otherwise be on their own on Christmas day.
“It’s morphed into providing an event not only for older people who, for a variety of reasons, would be on their own, but for anyone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to put on a decent spread and provide presents for their kids,” he said.
Murray began as a volunteer four years ago, when they hosted 120 people. Last Christmas, they hosted 430 and provided 70 with take-out meals. Murray is in charge of the fundraising and helps organise the event as part of a team.
He is also troubled by the recidivism rate for those leaving prison, so he helps out with training at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison. He runs a programme on finding employment—the whys and hows, helping inmates with CVs and interview skills. He finds the men engaging and respectful, and some are actively looking for work after their release.
“Others attend just to break the tedium of being in prison,” he said, “but they participate in the programme actively, and that’s all I can ask.”
Karyn Teddy, who coordinates the work Murray does at the prison, has seen for herself the difference he makes there.
“He has an incredible background in HR and wide range of skills and other experiences, and builds great rapport in his time with tane,” she said. “We’re always really excited for him to be delivering a course that provides such practical and vital skills as part of the reintegration process.”
On a more personal level, Murray also mentors a couple who run a business and the 18-year-old son of a friend.
Murray is 62 now and could be making very different decisions at this stage of life.
“Look, I’m rubbish at golf and think it’s a waste of six-and-a-half kilometres of what would otherwise be a pleasurable walk,” he said. “I would encourage others who are looking for something to do to get into volunteering. There’s so much opportunity to do good stuff in the community, and you derive a great deal of satisfaction from it.”
Murray said that many people are struggling, especially in these days of COVID, and that food banks are flat-tack. He sees the solution for their problems in everyone doing what they can, where they can, and not expect the government to “throw money at the problem, hoping it is going to fix it.”
Aside from just keeping himself busy, Murray said that the sense of purpose he gets from volunteering is incredibly rewarding. And the change in pace and focus has actually made a huge difference in his own life.
“I probably suffered a bit from anxiety,” he said, reflecting on his career. “I find I’m a lot more relaxed, less intense. I’ve got far more head space to play with the likes of my granddaughters, which I wouldn’t have been able to manage before. I’m a better partner to my wife and a better person for it, actually.”
Everyone has something to bring to volunteer work. With his history in corporate management and HR, Murray has been drawn to opportunities where he can mentor and lead others. What experiences have shaped you, and what are your passions? Where will you make a difference? Get in touch with Volunteering Hawkes Bay to find out or click here find your place in the community.
Will you be the one who makes a difference?