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Gisborne Scholars are Shining Lights

At First Foundation, we often talk about our scholarships’ positive ripple effect on communities. And at Gisborne Girls’ High School, you can see this in action.

Five Gisborne Girls have become First Foundation Scholars. Not only has each one been the first in their family to head to University, but they’ve also ensured they leave a well-lit path that others can follow.

Jo Graham is the Gateway Co-ordinator/HOF Careers at Gisborne Girls’ High School. She’s dedicated to supporting students to set a successful path beyond school and says the First Foundation’s programme is especially powerful in helping with this.

“For many of our girls, the financial commitment of university is overwhelming; it’s a huge hurdle. That means the financial assistance that First Foundation provides is critical. But the scholarship gives so much more value.”

Jo says it’s hard to imagine what you’ll face in the transition to University and what support you might want or need.


The programme is unique because it wraps right around the students

Jo loves that First Foundation recognises students who are first in their whānau to attend university. She says it’s meaningful that the programme begins in Year 13 as students are set up to succeed.

Gisborne Girls’ works hard to support students with transition plans, course applications, campus tours, accommodation options, Studylink setup and more. But Jo says First Foundation brings something different that complements the schools’ support.

“When Year 13s connect with their First Foundation mentor, it’s like they’ve got a wise Aunty or Uncle on the sidelines who understands what study is all about. ”

They build that relationship before they get into their academic year. The mentors stay alongside them, offering encouragement and a fresh perspective when it’s needed.”


Success starts with the school’s support

Jo has become an advocate for the programme, and each year she encourages girls to apply.

“I’ve found that everyone at First Foundation seems genuinely interested in our students and their futures. Kirk and his team are always ready to help and answer any questions. They follow up and are delighted to see them succeed. It’s not a transactional thing.”

Jo cares deeply about her students. She’s always keeping her eyes open for anyone who might have a good fit for the programme. She sees plenty of bright young women who have ambition but must first overcome barriers to reach tertiary study. Jo ensures students understand the scholarship process and timelines, are ready for the interview, and prepare with references.

“Right now, I can think of a student who would love to go to university in 2023 to study Oral Health. I’ll make sure she and her family are aware of First Foundation, and I’ll follow up when the applications are due,” she explains.

Jo’s dedication has certainly paid off. This year, Gisborne Girls announced a fourth and fifth scholar with Skyla Taua (Year 12) and Karunikah Pere-Walker (Year 13). They’ve enjoyed the support of earlier scholars from the school; Phoenix Burrows-Kirikiri in 2018, Sam Booth in 2019 and Tessa Hill in 2020.

Tessa Hill (left) and Sam Booth attending our Celebration Event earlier this year.

As these rangatahi rise, they inspire others

Sam Booth has recently graduated and returned to Gisborne Girls’ High School to give back and mentor other students. The First Foundation Scholarship helped Sam to realise her dream of studying music at Massey University. It also inspired Tessa – another talented musician, to pursue a similar path.

Sam says that coming from a low-income family, the thought of University meant only financial struggle.

“University was not something I thought would be possible without accumulating a lot of debt for myself and my family. First Foundation took that burden from my shoulders and made it possible for me to study without worry.

Sam is grateful to her scholarship partners, David and Rachel Lewis, and says she’ll be forever grateful to their generosity.

“On top of that, I was also assigned a mentor. Masina Taulapapa has helped me immensely with problems I encounter and the transition from high school to university.”

Tessa showed her tenacity from the start. The first time she applied for the scholarship, she was too young to win a place on the programme.

“I am beyond grateful that I was successful and decided not to give up. I am extremely grateful to the anonymous Gisborne sponsor who has generously invested in my studies,” she says. Tessa recognises that mentoring and networking will be a huge advantage in launching a career after her degree in music technology at Massey University Wellington.

“I can take up many opportunities and make connections within the industry. It also takes a huge amount of pressure off my family, especially my mum, who is currently unemployed due to injuries.”

Imagine what would happen if other regions could enjoy this impact

With support from First Foundation and dedicated teachers, five exceptional young Gisborne women are creating outstanding futures. Importantly, they’re inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.


As they succeed, these First Foundation scholars prove to their peers that the road to university isn’t simply a theoretical option. Instead, they’re lighting the way so it’s a real, tangible course that others can follow.

We can’t help but wonder what would happen if each regional school could give its young people this same sense of possibility along with the financial and practical support for kids to set out on the paths they deserve.

If you’d like to help people in your region, we would certainly welcome your support.