I have lived in the Wakatipu area for the last 30 years and have had a lot of association with the Skippers / Branches area. I have two daughters, the oldest Rebekah attended the Branches camp in 2007 and Kathleen in 2013. I was approached six years ago to be a trustee for the Branches Charitable Trust, which I was only too happy to be a part of. I have seen the personal development that happens to the young adults that are fortunate enough to attend the Branches Camp. They grow in so many different areas including social interaction and an all round feel good about themselves for achieving the different goals set at the camp. I feel passionate about maintaining this camp for generations to come and it is my main aim while being a trustee to grow the funds to become self perpetuating to ensure that the financial support needed for the camp is always available.
I have lived in Queenstown for 20 years having arrived with my husband Chris on a working holiday as so many others before had. I've been a teacher at Queenstown Primary School for most of that time apart from a two-year stint back in the UK for our extended families to get to know our two children. The Branches camp has been spoken about by so many families and children throughout this time, that I knew it was important to become involved in some way.
Gayleen Bennett-Neilson (Bennie)
I joined the Trust in 2012 as my eldest son was due to attend Branches and I felt I would like to help out with the Work Day. Having holidayed here as a youngster I have lived here for four years but in that time I have heard snippets of conversation about this somewhat mysterious 'rite of passage' Branches camp. I was amazed to hear that students rated this experience as a highlight of their secondary school years and some even described it as 'life changing.' …I found this a little unbelievable to be honest. On a day trip to observe the camp in action last year I came to fully comprehend what an extraordinary opportunity our children have with these 12 days of physical, mental and emotional challenges. I came away feeling very exhilarated and excited about being involved in such an amazing Trust. The encounter resonated with my own outward bound and outdoor education experiences, learning about yourself, other people and overcoming obstacles. It was surreal to observe the 150 students, teachers and instructors going about a range of activities in the most beautiful setting on Branches station far removed from the hustle and bustle of technology filled lives. I now understand why the foundational Trustees want to ensure this unique camp can continue and be accessible to all students who attend WHS.
I have lived in the Wakatipu since 1990 along with my husband Grant. We have two children (17 and 15) who have both been to the Branches Camp. I became a Trustee of The Branches Trust in 2010 when our eldest was getting ready for camp - after watching the growth and camaraderie between her immediate peers and extended Year Group I was even more passionate about ensuring the Camps survival, they form a bond through shared experiences and learn a lot about their abilities. They go as young Teens, full of bravado and eager to brave the experiences that older siblings or earlier year groups have bragged about and come back as young adults, full of the experiences they have had, confident with a new found respect for themselves, their peers, teachers and an appreciation for their parents! (albeit very tired and a lot smelly). This Camp is one of the last of its kind in NZ run by a school and because of our unique environment I would like to ensure that the opportunity is there for our Yr 10 students for many years to come.
Vanessa Van Uden
As a founding Trustee of the Branches Charitable trust Vanessa has been instrumental in getting this group of like-minded people together to work on a cause that she is very passionate about. Having two teenage daughters who have both been through the Camp and watched the development and growth in Leadership Skills amongst their peers she is committed to ensuring that this camp is sustainable for a good many years to come.
I joined the Branches Camp Trust in 2013 just prior to my daughter Kirsty attending the camp. I have always had a love of the outdoors and this little part of the world that I chose to call home over 20yrs ago. I think that the life that teenagers live with all the technology available to them in every aspect of their education, getting back to basics is still really important in their development especially where teamwork, leadership, tolerance, friendship, endurance and camaraderie is concerned. I believe The Branches camp provides extension in all these things and the benefits and experiences are invaluable – and what better place to expose them to than out in the back blocks of our adventure playground
I have lived in Queenstown since 2014 and have joined the Branches Trust this year (2017). Being in the outdoors has always been very special to me, I feel it is an essential part of our growth to be involved with others in situations which push the boundaries. I have three children with my husband Joe. My 15-year-old son and 13-year-old twin boys. My elder son is attending Branches this year. I look forward to working with the trust for many years. I believe it's an incredibly important part of Wakatipu High School and possibly one of the only camps of it's magnitude still available to students.