Denise Kent is an original trustee and has been with Life Matters throughout its journey. Denise first met Corinda Taylor at a public meeting she had advertised in the Star newspaper about the prevalence of suicide in our hapori (community). Denise had been working for 20 years at Otago Mental Health Support Trust, a peer support run service, and had long experience and commitment to improving our mental health services.
Denise knew that Corinda had been frustrated about the barriers for people being able to navigate the mental health service and the lack of pathways for whānau in a distressed state.
After that public meeting, Life Matters was established with Denise as a founding trustee. She describes her role as being a guardian of the ethos of the trust. She feels her relationship with Corinda was built on a shared worldview and they made a formidable team.
It was hard work at the beginning while Denise worked nine-hour days in her day job. She recalls getting up at 5am to get signwriting done and decorating the Octagon at 7am for the Hope Walk. They went to parliament to deliver the message that there needed to be changes in the mental health system. They delivered workshops to all kinds of organisations and workplaces including scaffolders, plumbers and builders.
In the early days Denise saw her role as building relationships, connections and the pathways for Life Matters to be successful. It meant working closely with Corinda to develop and help deliver the training for peer support volunteers.
During this time Denise had a lot of support from her whānau. She never felt on her own and believed in the Kaupapa of Life Matters.
These days Denise is as busy as ever, delivering training and still contributing to Life Matters as a board member. She describes it as a life-calling, paid or unpaid. She cares about social justice and about people's te oranga hinengaro (mental wellbeing). As she puts it, everyone deserves to have the best shot at life, and having a peer alongside you provides essential support at crucial times.
Denise comes from a family of 10, describing herself as being in the middle and a very quiet child. She has four children of her own who are Ngai Tahu. She feels blessed to now have her first mokopuna.
She credits her experiences of growing up in a large family to set her on the path of working in mental health. She witnessed her mum and dad working very hard to keep her big family on track. Having a niece with Down syndrome, she is aware what an amazing gift this has been to her whole whanau. Denise credits her own experience of mental distress and losing people to suicide as a reason why she searched for many years to find he right organisations to work with. OMHST and Life Matters are those organisations.