Vanessa Van Uden Patron & Treasurer
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 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.
Belinda was born in Invercargill and bred in Britain but came back to her country of birth in 1997 with her husband, Jeremy. They moved to Queenstown in 1999 and immediately fell in love with the place and made it their home. They started a tourism transport business in 2001, the same year they started a family and since starting their family Belinda has chosen to take a keen interest in the various school communities which her children have attended. She was initially on the Central Otago Kindergarten Association Board, ending up as Chair, she involved herself hugely in Queenstown Primary School while her children attended and now with their three children at Wakatipu High School Belinda has chosen to invest her energy into the Branches Trust. Her oldest daughter Bianca, went through Branches Camp in 2015, Jasmine is set to go in 2018 with Luke following in 2019. The Branches Camp lasts for 12 days but the experiences the kids encounter will last a lifetime. Belinda wholly agrees with the concept of keeping the camp affordable for all, the ethos and reason for being of the Branches Trust, and is prepared to work in and with the community to ensure we have the funds to cap the costs of the camp for 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.