These inspiring people are our individual 'Grandparent of the year' winners

''Being a grandparent is a great blessing and I love it! But it's also a big responsibility''

By Lynley Ward
Faith van Heeswyck goes from dawn to dusk surrounded by children, often with little time to pause.
But the winner of our Grandma of the Year competition − in association with Ryman Healthcare − is being rewarded for selflessly putting family first no matter the curve balls life throws.
Whether it's moving in with her daughter to give round the clock, hands-on help to home-school, cook, clean and care for six young grandchildren or tending to her teenage grand-daughter with special needs, to even helping to run a community dance class, the caring matriarch is there to support and help where she can.
Denise (above left, who nominated Faith) and Faith both care for children with special needs, meeting and bonding at church 13 years ago.
With a husband injured in a freak trailer accident last year and, more recently, recovering from back surgery, the deserved accolade caught the 52-year-old by surprise.
"I don't think it's sunk in yet," Faith confesses.
"I'm being a grandmother and I don't need an award for it. My grandchildren are enough of a reward."
A proud mum to five and grandma to 17, she says family is her main priority.
"Being a grandparent is a great blessing and I love it! But it's also a big responsibility to have input into their lives and to be there for them and their parents.
"We moved in with our daughter and family to provide support while they're going through a rough time."
She adds that raising five children and providing foster care has meant the house has always been filled with lots of little ones running around "so having a big family and doing those things is just part of me."
Denise Hoffman (55), who nominated the devoted gran for the award, says she is filled with admiration for her friend of 13 years.
"I see how exhausted she gets and how it doesn't stop her from giving to their lives," tells Denise.
"Before she does things, such as the dance group we do together, she always considers the children first."
Faith says, "She's a very dear friend. It means a lot to think that she sees me in that light."
But no matter the challenges, Faith cherishes the special relationships she is forging with the next generation of her family.
"I really love it when they call you grandma and turn to you or just want to have time with you.
"And of course I couldn't do it without my husband...
"To be an awesome grandmother you need an awesome granddad to go with it!"

Charles Nicholls is our Granddad of the year

Arlo (seated), Enda (back), and Lyla are Charles' world.
The bond between grand-dad Charles Nicholls (70) and his first grandchild Arlo was forged within days of the little boy's birth as the newly minted poppa carried the baby to appointments while his mum underwent post-birth treatment.
Now, nearly a decade later, this helpful grandfather is still there for his cherished grandkids.
And thanks to his selfless devotion, which sees him at the school gates, on the sidelines of sports fields and even dancing and drama classes, the Aucklander has been recognised as the most outstanding candidate for our Granddad of the Year award.
Proud daughter Liz (35), who nominated her father, says it has meant the world to have her grandchildren forge such a close bond with her dad.
"Every morning I drop my children Arlo (9) and Lyla (6) to their grandparents' house. He never misses a walk to school, coaches school cricket and worked as a classroom aide.
"On days without activities he has the patience of a saint as the kids tear up and own the playground," she wrote in her nomination.
But it's the pride Charles has in Arlo, Lyla and also Enda (5), and how he celebrates their milestones and achievements that is especially meaningful.
"He'll happily dress up for all their parties whether it is dyeing his hair green or wearing a cowboy hat," their grateful mum says.
"One of the most rewarding things is watching my daughter run up to him and throw her arms around him. There's a real bond there."
Charles and wife Helen (far right) are proud of daughter Liz and their grandkids.
It was fitting then that the granddad-of-three was on holiday with two grandchildren when the call came that he had been awarded the title.
"He was doing very grand-fatherly things in Taranaki with the kids when I got phoned," Liz tells.
"My dad said, 'I'm sure there's more deserving applicants' because that's the sort of guy he is!"
"I didn't believe her and was somewhat ambivalent but I went along with it!" chuckles Charles.
Asked what motivates him, the former secondary school teacher pauses and says:
"It's hard to put it in a few words. Obviously, I love them and I've had early involvement with Arlo. Two days after he was born, I carried him around hospitals while his mother was getting physio... I think that started the whole process off.
"I'm very committed to help bring them up with a positive view about life."

Supergran Barbara Graham is our Active Grandparent of the year

Active Barbara has picked up back-to-back triple gold medals in a sport she only started recently − indoor rowing.
Whether she's out in her garden or down at the swimming pool, grandmother of eight and great-gran of five Barbara Graham lives a lifestyle that puts many half her age to shame.
The 79-year-old Levin resident spends each Monday and Wednesday working out at the local gym, while on Tuesday and Fridays you'll find her pounding the pavement and swimming.
Her day off is spent volunteering at a local SPCA shop.
But this isn't even a patch on her gold-winning exploits at the Masters Games, where she has picked up back-to-back triple gold medals in a sport she only started recently − indoor rowing.
The impressive feats saw proud granddaughter Jaymee Graham − who happens to be a former New Zealand age-group representative in water polo − nominate Barbara for Active Grandparent of the Year title.
"Last year she had gone to the Masters Games and won three gold medals, and I thought that was pretty cool, and this year she did the same and won some more! I was like, this is amazing!" tells the 24-year-old.
Barbara's got her eyes on a new prize − beating a world record!
For Barbara, who played sport as a youngster and admits to having a competitive streak, the first taste of Masters' glory came as she took part in a 5km walk.
"I went in that for a joke," she tells. "That was the first medal I ever got. I think that really set the interest into getting medals."
After competing in a variety of distances over the years, Barbara swapped walking for indoor rowing.
"I must have gone to a gym and tried the machines out," she tells.
"I thought, 'I don't mind this', so I entered in the Wanganui Masters Games. I enjoyed that and got a gold medal for my efforts. That encouraged me to go down to Dunedin and compete in more events."
With her sights focused on breaking an age group world record next year, the highly motivated pensioner reckons this latest award recognises far more than her impressive sporting accomplishments.
"[It] shows me that my grand-children consider me [to be] important in their lives. I don't hear a great deal from them
all the time, but I must have some sort of influence."

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