Real Life

Theresa Gattung and sister Angela’s mission for New Zealand women

One year on, the charitable Gattungs are keeping up the good work

It’s been a huge year for Theresa Gattung and her sister Angela. Since the official launch of their charitable foundation back in October 2022, they’ve been busy solving problems and improving lives.

The Gattung Foundation is all about supporting causes the sisters are passionate about – they call this “the heart effect” – and their priorities are helping girls and women, as well as improving the welfare of animals.

“Everything we do is personal,” says Theresa. “The great thing about the first year for me is it’s absolutely been my vision coming to pass. I’ve always given money away. From my very first pay cheque, I started donating regularly to charities like Women’s Refuge and the SPCA. I’m still giving to good causes, but together with Angela, using her intelligence and experience, we’ve created something more than that.”

Theresa’s career as a business leader and Angela’s background in education and charity work means the sisters have complementary skills. They also share a Catholic upbringing, which taught them the importance of giving back, so in a way they’ve been in training their whole lives to create something like the Gattung Foundation.

So far, they have given away more than $1 million. To begin with, it was purely Theresa’s money, but now they’re also fundraising. Rather than simply handing over cash, often they collaborate with those they help. That might mean coming up with creative strategies to solve problems or giving guidance.

Among the organisations they are proud to be working alongside is Tōnui Collab, which operates in Gisborne, offering bilingual education labs for young people. With their help, the Gattung Foundation is funding a three-year initiative so girls from schools in the area can compete in the Kiwibots programme, picking up new tech skills and having lots of fun as they learn about robotics.

“We’re very much in the space of breaking cycles, and helping women and girls to forge futures,” says Angela, 59.

Adds Theresa, 61, “Can you imagine how much more powerful the country is going to be in 10 or 20 years’ time if we harness everyone’s talent? If we harness the talent of girls on the East Coast, one of the most deprived regions and geographically challenged with weather events? We believe that’s how to make New Zealand great – everyone has to be at the table.”

The Gattung Foundation is also working alongside an organisation called Kootuitui ki Papakura on a mentoring programme to help young women in South Auckland who left school during the pandemic, missing out on work and educational opportunities.

“We want to give them a second chance,” tells Angela.

Another donation was for a new ambulance to serve the Waihi area, given in memory of their father John, who died of bowel cancer. So far, it has responded to more than 500 incidents.

“I feel very proud whenever I’m at the beach and see our ambulance driving past,” says Theresa. “Our dad was in an ambulance a lot, so I’m glad we’ve been able to support our community.”

This first year has been all about connecting with people and finding out where the need is. While it has fallen to Angela to do much of that hands-on work, all decisions are taken jointly alongside the third member of the team, Chris Woodwiss, who is Theresa’s longtime assistant.

Strong, opinionated sisters working together could have its challenges, “but actually, it’s been fine”, says Angela. “We’ve always got on well and we’ve got similar energies in a way. Also, I’m the boss!”

“Yes, she’s the boss,” agrees Theresa, laughing.

Yet it’s Angela’s home that tends to be half-crammed with pre-loved designer clothing gathered for one of their fundraising efforts, the Fashion Sister pop-up sales. Anyone in the greater Auckland area can hold these events or donate items and it’s an opportunity to buy stylish clothes at reasonable prices, plus raise money for a good cause.

“There’s a lot of collecting clothes, washing, mending, dry-cleaning and sorting involved,” says Angela. “Even I get tired and I have a lot of energy!”

Angela is also enrolled in a level-four te reo Māori course and has children and grandchildren. Meanwhile, Theresa juggles other work commitments, and both sisters spend time at Waihi Beach, where their mother Marion lives.

Still, these two dynamic women aren’t very good at doing nothing. “I can’t even sit in a chair and get my hair done,” admits Angela. “And Theresa can’t cope with a day in her diary that’s got nothing scheduled in it.”

Theresa explains, “Even the year I was suffering from burnout, I might have been physically lying in my bed but my brain was still going.

“I have lots of ideas and things I’m working on. I’m an extrovert – I need to be around people, it gives me energy. I don’t do well on my own, and I love to be a part of making change and creating things.”

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