If there was a crown for the busiest woman in New Zealand, it would currently be on Jo Kisona’s head.
Not only is the 38-year-old mother to daughter Eden (1) and three-year-old twins, Olga and Judah, she also works full-time for Child, Youth & Family as the residence manager of a 20-bed unit for vulnerable youth in Lower Hutt.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jo also coheads up the Youth Ministry at the Pacific Island Church of Christ the King (PIC) in Cannons Creek, Porirua, managing programmes for around 30-40 youth from different denominations.
So how does this superwoman do it all?
“With huge amounts of family support,” she laughs, especially from extended family and her builder husband, Tito.
“We also include our kids in almost everything we do. If we’ve got a youth event, we’ll bring them along with us if we can,” says Jo.
It’s probably no surprise that Jo’s life has followed this path. Her family has a long history of working in the caring professions and while growing up, Jo says she was taught that if someone needs help, you help them.
“My father was always helping new arrivals from the Islands and it was natural to us to share what we had. If you have a car, then find out who needs a lift and give them one. If you have food, then see who is hungry. That’s the way we were brought up and that’s the message I hope to pass onto my children.”
After finishing high school at St Mary’s in Wellington, Jo moved to Dunedin to study law at Otago University. But part-way through her degree, she realised that God was asking her to move in another direction.
“I’d always been in the Church but in 1997, I really started listening to what God wanted for me.”
That turned out to be a degree in consumer applied sciences, focusing on social work and child psychiatry (nonmedical) that Jo completed in 1999.
While attending Elim Church in Dunedin, Jo juggled her studies with setting up a youth group. At its peak, the group had around 50 members, drawn from various denominations. It’s something she believes strongly in.
“Growing up, my wider family would talk about ‘one church’, about it not mattering which church you identified with. One church means coming together to worship together and that’s something that we practice at the PIC youth group today.”
After moving back to Wellington, Jo’s desire to help others kicked into overdrive and she has since worked with everyone from vulnerable youth to sex offenders.
“I love working with people that society sees as hopeless and useless. That’s where I think I can make the greatest difference.”
The Auckland-born Samoan/Tokulean says the biggest reward is seeing the light go on for a young person.
“So many young people think that they’re not worth anything, that they’re a waste of space. And then you work with them and you see them thinking ‘maybe I have got something to contribute’ and that,for me, is the pay-back. It’s my purpose to help a young person understand that they’re worth something.”
Jo has been an active member of the PIC youth and young adult ministry for the last decade and says she “has a real heart” for youth work, particularly in helping to stem the tide of young people leaving the Church.
“There’s so much we could do to help retain our young people and that’s where my passion is. It’s about making the church youth-friendly, working with our young people to get them involved with the community and to see their value in helping others.”
“Lens on Generosity” was one of the programmes successfully initiated by Jo which focused on paying it forward.
“We helped clean people’s homes, with the objective that having a clean house would lead to better physical and mental health. We also ran free school holiday programmes to help give parents a break.”
Jo also found time to get involved with Connect, being a keynote speaker at the 2011 event.
As for the future, this dynamo plans to keep on giving back and one day she and her husband would love to open their own foster home.
“We’d love to foster about four kids at a time, especially the vulnerable kids that no-one else wants. We’re praying for the right time to do this.”
– Sharon Stephenson SPANZ summer 2015
Watch Jo at Connect 2011