Feeling unfulfilled and missing her Australian homeland, Karen Hewitt headed off to see Oprah Winfrey give a talk in Auckland last year in the hope she might hear something to snap her out of a rut. The chat-show queen didn't disappoint.
But what the former nurse and midwife hadn't anticipated was how Oprah's insights would inspire her to start a nationwide charitable trust called Just Because, which delivers gorgeous gift packs to women struggling through difficult times, as well as care boxes to women in temporary housing.
"Two years ago, I felt my only purpose in life was to pack up my family and go home to Oz," laughs Karen, who moved to Auckland in 2011 from Wollongong, New South Wales.
"That night with Oprah changed my attitude. She talked about making a difference in the world and what legacy do you want to leave. She said, 'The best way to success is to discover what you love, then find a way to offer it to others in the form of a service.'"
That advice hit home and when Karen's husband Darrin picked her up from the An Evening with Oprah event, she told him, "I'm going to do something to make a difference. I don't know what yet, but I'm going to do it."
The next day, the mum-of-two remembered how the couple's café in Australia used to give away coffee vouchers to a charity. The idea was to give the project a Kiwi spin – and spreading joy to women who were dealing with tough circumstances was something very close to her heart.
Karen – who recently became a flight attendant at the age of 47 – has encountered several "road bumps" in life, including depression, raising a child with special needs and being a survivor of sexual abuse.
"There were many days, weeks and months I struggled with life," she tells. "I was raped at 14, and dealt with it by putting on a smiling clown face and pretending life was wonderful. And then, at the age of 30, after I had given birth to my second son, my life just cracked.
"For some reason, something that had happened to me 16 years beforehand came to the surface again and made me feel as if I wasn't worthy of anything good."
Tearfully, Karen explains she spent the next 18 months in and out of hospital for severe postnatal depression. Darrin gave up his job to help care for their boys.
"I was lucky I had an amazing family. Lots of women out there don't have that support. By creating Just Because, I wanted women to know they are not alone and that people do care."
After pitching the idea to Darrin, Karen went home to make the first pamper pack out of products she had at home. Then a Facebook page was set up, asking for nominations of worthy recipients.
Karen tells, "I went to women's networking events, spoke at schools and by sheer determination got sponsors on board to raise money to purchase around $200 worth of products for the packs.
"We put in anything that spoils a woman. Luxury items, such as vouchers for spa treatments and movie tickets, as well as decadent food items, hair and make-up products, and candles."
Each pack is personalised to the individual woman and Karen pops in a handwritten letter of encouragement. In the past two years, more than 200 gifts packs have been sent out, all lovingly put together on Karen's kitchen table. The process is a family affair, with sons Jordan (20) and Callum (17) helping her with most aspects of the charity.
Just Because also organises evenings in Auckland that focus on women's health and wellbeing, as well as strategies for stress management and personal safety.
"I want to remind women they're amazing. I've hand-delivered packs to women who are in horrific situations and I'm blown away by how they just keep going for their families."
One recipient who stood out for Karen was a lady looking after her deceased sister and brother-in-law's six children, along with her own four.
"There were 12 people living in a three-bedroom house. Not only was this woman dealing with her own loss, but the children's grief too. As I was leaving their house, her teenage son stopped me in the driveway and said, 'Thank you so much for doing that for my mum.' It's the little things that let women know they're doing an incredible job of coping."
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