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Kia Ora, we are the women behind BRAVE.

Together, we have more than a decade of experience supporting young wahine in Hawke's Bay who have survived sexual abuse.

Vanessa Gillespie

Social Worker, BRAVE Co-Founder, Trustee

Meet Vanessa

I am a registered social worker and studied at EIT here in the Hawke’s Bay to gain my Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Social Sciences.

I have extensive experience working with young people and throughout my career have worked in suicide prevention, youth mental health, mindfulness and group facilitation, and sexual trauma recovery.

I was a facilitator of the ACC Mates and Dates sexual violence prevention programme in Hawke’s Bay High Schools, and that experience sparked my passion for helping those affected by sexual violence.

Born and raised in Hawke’s Bay, I am a happy dog-Mum and loving aunty to my nieces and nephews. My family mean the world to me and through them I have learned that time is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others.

On my personal journey through grief and trauma, mindfulness has been central to my healing. Practising mindfulness – often inspired by nature – and gratitude helps me transform overwhelming emotions into positive, intentional action.

I have supported many young people in my professional life and, at a personal level, have also helped loved ones through sexual harm and trauma recovery. Experiencing sexual trauma first-hand, or witnessing a loved one suffer it, can be heavy and heartbreaking. I will do my very best to hold space for survivors, to help you find the words for the feelings and healing for the pain.

Karen Hart

Counsellor, BRAVE Co-Founder, Trustee

Meet Karen

I am a qualified, ACC-accredited counsellor, receiving my Masters in Counselling from Massey University in 2011.

My journey to counselling began while working as a high-school English and Drama teacher. I recognised then that today’s young people are facing far greater mental health challenges than any generation before them. I saw that if their minds were scattered, it was impossible for them to learn and thrive.

In 2008 I became a high-school guidance counsellor, before specialising further to become an ACC counsellor for sensitive claims - with particular expertise in trauma healing and mindfulness.

I believe that trauma-informed practice is the path to healing; through acknowledging the impact of a survivor’s traumatic experiences on them and others, and building wellbeing from a place of truth and understanding.

I am proud to be part of the BRAVE team, who are walking the talk of trauma-informed care and making a real difference in the lives of young women who have experienced sexual abuse. Our girls grow from survivors to thrivers and become confident young women who give back to their communities.

Stacey Tito

Youth Worker, BRAVE Co-Founder, Trustee

Meet Stacey

Tena koutou, Ko Stacey Tito ahau.

He uri ahau no Te Aupouri, Nga Puhi me Ngati Kahungunu. No Pāharakeke ahau.

Born and raised in Flaxmere in the heart of Hawke’s Bay, I am a mother of three tamariki who are my “why”: they give me the strength and passion to continue being the best version of me.

I have vast experience and knowledge working with rangatahi/taiohi, from programme development and implementation, to youth mental health and running camps, to group facilitation and education - let’s just say the list goes on and on.

I worked for many years in the youth sector with no qualification – just a passion and drive to provide for our rangatahi/taiohi. Seeing the impact of social changes and the pressure on young people without proper support, I decided to build on my knowledge and skills, gaining a Bachelor of Youth Development in 2015 through WelTec. I was the first in Hawke’s Bay to achieve this qualification, and was determined to ensure we were being tūturu (authentic) in our mahi with rangatahi/taiohi.

I am also a founding member of Korowai Tupu, the Professional Association for Youth Work in Aotearoa.

I enjoy working alongside our rangatahi/taiohi and watching them grow and transition into confident and resilient young adults who are thriving more each day.

We at BRAVE know it’s not easy for anyone to open up about any personal trauma, especially trauma caused through sexual assault. To be able to support our rangatahi/taiohi with ongoing, wrap-around services - and not just a quick “band aid” fix – is what we strive to provide through The BRAVE Foundation.

Our BRAVE Values

TRUST - we strive to establish and maintain trust in our work. Our services are completely confidential and non-judgmental.

COMPASSION - we believe that compassion is empathy in action. We understand how sexual assault can impact survivors and are motivated to find pathways and resources to help alleviate their suffering and create a safe space in which to heal.

EMPOWERMENT - our goal is to strengthen the skills and confidence of survivors so they feel empowered to address their experiences, prevent further trauma, and take steps to promote their own wellbeing and interests.

CONNECTION - we all carry an innate need to connect with others and BRAVE understands how fundamental this is to our wellbeing. We are here to support young wahine to form connections, with peers and the community, but also with themselves and their trauma.

Our BRAVE Beginning

BRAVE has its roots in the successful Hawke's Bay Police Wahine Toa programme – established in 2001 by Senior Constable Sue Guy and Sergeant Su Robinson.

The Wahine Toa programme focused on improving the safety, education, well-being and self-esteem of sexual abuse survivors, and was replicated in other regions of New Zealand and Australia.

Today, the BRAVE team are carrying on that work, with the benefit of 20 years of learnings and experiences.

Our Community Partners


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