A Tauranga addictions service is being featured in a powerful and eye-opening one-hour TVNZ2 special on the life of former professional rugby league player and high-profile boxer Dave Letele.
Tauranga’s Brave Hearts NZ founder and director Erin ONeill will join ex All Black Zac Guildford, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Hinemoa Elder and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, alongside others who will be bravely sharing their stories on TV2 on Thursday, August 3 at 8.30pm.
Well-known community advocate and ‘Local Hero of the Year’ Dave retraces his own personal journey of gangs, addiction, and alcohol, while uncovering the compelling personal stories of everyday Kiwis, opening a window into the wider social impacts that affect us all.
“There are many issues that we face in New Zealand right now. There are heavy conversations to be had. Whilst these topics are heavy, I hope this show is seen as a story of hope,” says Dave.
From his own background in gangs, violence, crime, addiction, and obesity, Dave understands challenges faced by many in our communities.
Born the son of a notorious Mongrel Mob leader, he rose to prominence as a professional rugby league player and a high-profile boxer.
Overcoming his struggle with obesity, Dave embarked on a remarkable 100kg weight-loss journey and founded Buttabean Motivation (BBM), which has positively impacted the lives of thousands of fellow New Zealanders.
His inspirational story and dedication to his community led to him being named Kiwibank New Zealand Local Hero of the Year in 2022, Te Pou Toko o te Tau for Tāmaki Makaurau.
Erin ONeill – Brave Hearts NZ
Erin is the mother of a son who struggled with an addiction to methamphetamine. Because of her own experience, she is a passionate advocate for supporting families who cope with the daily demands of a loved one with substance issues.
It's a dark underbelly many of us don't see. One we imagine we never will. But addiction is a reality that can creep into any one of our lives when it takes hold of our loved ones.
From stealing and lying, to aggression and depression, the devastation wrought by addiction does not end at one person. It ripples through the lives of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends, and it's a hard role to be in.
Brave Hearts NZ is a support service for people with loved ones with substance use and addictions issues.
“Our community has been directly affected by the agonising, daily trauma of having an addicted loved one,” says Erin.
Originally from Auckland, with a background in business ownership, events and marketing, Erin leads Brave Hearts NZ in providing support groups, toolkit sessions and educational seminars and zoom meetings for all whanau nationwide.
“My son is eight years clean now,” says Erin. “He has a degree and a career working with people with mental health problems.”
Erin says her son has come a long way since then and it shows that recovery is possible – that people with addictions can get back into society and become contributing members of society.
“Because of my experience I went through with him and as a family is what led me to set up Brave Hearts NZ.”
Launching in 2016, Erin says they ran quite a few big seminars at one stage.
“It’s too hard to do that now, as we’ve grown so much and have so many people on a day-to-day basis that we’re supporting.”
At their first meeting in 2016, 60 Bay of Plenty residents turned up. At the second meeting, more than 270 people came. Due to demand, Brave Hearts NZ expanded to Auckland in 2018, and Hamilton and the South Island in 2019.
During the Covid lockdown, the face-to-face meetings were replaced with Zoom meetings that go nationwide, with excellent speakers involved.
Based in Tauranga, Brave Hearts NZ has support group meetings throughout NZ run by volunteers.
“These are people who have had experience themselves and come through the other side and want to help others.”
From addressing methamphetamine issues, now the service is seeing families where alcohol can be the main problem, or other drugs like opioid and prescription medicine.
“And often people are on a mix of things.”
Currently Brave Hearts NZ has an average of 100 clients per month nationwide. From January 2023, 250 Tauranga people have approached the service for help.
“They may not turn up at a meeting or engage in the whanau ten step toolkit but they have engaged in the service. Some wait til their wits end before they do the toolkit.
“By educating themselves they’re in a better position to support their family member who has an addiction. If you know what you’re dealing with you can do something about it.”
Erin, who has one part-time person and an accountant to help her, says Brave Hearts NZ needs more funding and volunteer help.
“We get some funding from Te Whatu Ora, but to be able to offer the services that we offer to people every month, we are not capable of doing that, we don’t have the resources or the people.
“We have great volunteers but they mostly have careers and businesses that they run themselves and can maybe spare a couple of hours per month to run a support group. We need more hands on deck.”
Ideal criteria for volunteers are people who have had a lived experience, who have had family members with addictions.
“Because that is what works. If you’ve been through something and come out of it, then you can help.”
Brave Hearts NZ is engaged in evidence-based addictions research with Bethlehem Tertiary Institute around families who have a member with an addiction.
“We’ve done Stage One and you can see the results of that on our website.
“Stage two is completed and we will be announcing the results at the Cutting Edge conference.”
Erin was awarded a Kiwibank Local Hero award in 2022 and is a registered member of Dapaanz, the Drug and Alcohol Practitioners' Association Aotearoa.
She went to Auckland for the TV special to be interviewed for ‘Heavyweight with Dave Letele’.
Uncomfortable and often confronting, Dave’s conversations are real, honest, and powerful. ‘Heavyweight with Dave Letele offers a much-needed reality check on what is really going on in our country today. And crucially, what could come next for New Zealand.
“Heavyweight with Dave Letele'' premiers on Thursday August 3, 8.30pm on TVNZ 2 and TVNZ+
To learn more about Brave Hearts NZ, visit https://bravehearts.nz/