Her given name is Caroline but nowadays, to family, friends and colleagues, she is better known as CJ Dafoe. Her CV makes for fascinating reading, and you almost want to ask, “Is there nothing you haven’t tried, CJ?”
So, to her role as founder and managing trustee of Mums4Mums, CJ has brought a wealth of experience. All of it is well-suited to match her strong motivation to be a force for good in the community. As an aside, CJ has dual nationality, New Zealand and Canadian, both countries with a strong reputation for breeding individuals with drive and versatility.
She started Mums4Mums after responding to a phone call from Tauranga Hospital seeking help for a new mum with premature twin boys. The social worker had called around to other agencies and none were in a position to help. CJ visited the family in need and rounded up some friends, known today as the Fab Five, who supported the family over the next five months. During that time the requests for help kept on coming.
An important maternal mental health initiative
CJ envisaged this organisation, a charitable trust, as an important maternal mental health initiative. Mums4Mums aims to help mothers after the baby’s birth, especially first-timers, and those with specific challenges.
She says, “Mums4Mums wasn’t started because a few women got together in a coffee shop and decided it would be great to cuddle babies. We started it because New Zealand – for us then, Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty, was and still is in a maternal mental health crisis and mums and newborns do it rough at times.”
CJ was blown away by what she learned from hospital workers and sat down to devise a plan for a solution. First, a referral form was created, and then CJ found a local charity, Multicultural Tauranga, who took Mums4Mums under their wing, helping to set up the police vetting account, and sharing office space for meetings and training.
Understanding the turmoil
“Help from Mums4Mums is provided in their own homes by our volunteers,” CJ explains. “Women who have been through the process and understand the turmoil a new baby can sometimes bring with it. None of us know before it happens how we’ll handle motherhood. There’s no test run for first-time mums, and not everyone has the support they need or can expect from a partner or from family. It’s a partnership, a connection.”
CJ has learned to recognise the steps and stages of progress and development, and how best to employ them with whatever work is presently to hand. Mums4Mums volunteers are police-vetted before they go into the homes of new mums and their new-born babies. A relationship is built on trust and the giving of whatever assistance is needed and how it can be discussed and determined to provide important support and nurture.
It seems to have been a long and purposeful journey that has brought CJ to where she is now. She trained initially as a professional health worker; she was a registered counsellor in Canada with a focus on loss, grief and trauma, and has been a human resource and SME consultant for over fifteen years. Such experience has made her well-prepared for the task at hand in launching and managing Mums4Mums. CJ obviously enjoys learning whatever comes to seem relevant and productive, and later added employment counselling to her ever-growing list of skills.
“I was working then with older clients in need of training and assistance with job finding. I would begin with a career assessment and then provide them with transitional counselling and liaise with other services to support clients. I found I enjoyed the challenges that came from matching individuals with the work that suited them best.”
She continues, “At this stage of my life, approaching 60 next year, I’m all about what influence or change I can make for the better. This may seem idealistic, but I’ve sat at the bedside of so many people in hospitals and hospices in my days in Canada. Not one person desired to spend more time at work. Always they wished they’d had more time with those they loved, or had done more to make a difference, however small. To have had a life of meaning and purpose, rather than seeking fame and fortune.”
So what does she do for relaxation?
“My 11-year-old son Stephen and I have a busy lifestyle that includes sports, travel, nature walks, swimming, boating, photography, and so much more. Oh, and I’m home-schooling him, too, which keeps my mind active.”
Certainly, CJ seems to thrive on hyperactivity. Mums4Mums continues to grow, though always open to enquiries about joining as a trustee or mentor. That would be enough for many of us, yet now another organisation in the Bay of Plenty is benefiting from her extensive range of skills and her business acumen. Since 2020 CJ has been creator and co-founder of another not-for-profit doing good in the community: Craft Management Charitable Trust.
My absolute passion
Craft’s purpose is to establish and maintain an education and production centre that will provide training, collaboration and mentorship for those hoping to find a career in film, theatre, radio and TV. CJ is now managing director, and an excellent fit for what the board of Craft want to achieve.
With the educational programme successfully completed, Craft has been looking for other initiatives that will further individual goals through contact, connection and collaboration. Last year students presented Shakespeare in Coronation Park, Tauranga, attracting a considerable audience who were treated to Romeo and Juliet in contemporary mode, with additional input from local performers and musicians.
This year the Craft team, with CJ at the business helm, and Harry Oram as director and producer, has moved Shakespeare to the Village on 17th Avenue. Craft is hopeful that, among their other projects, from 2024 they’ll be able to present a Shakespeare festival that will continue to attract audience and involve cos-players and performers in an immersive theatrical experience, bringing the world of Shakespeare to life.
When questioned on the energy that must go into running Mums4Mums and why she would take on another challenge, CJ smiles and says, “Actually, Craft was developed first, but we had to put it on hold due to the global pandemic and its alert levels, lockdowns, and the challenges that brought. So, while one charity was on the shelf, the other was able to take off. Now with those restrictions behind us, we can start to launch Craft properly and get it up and running.
“It’s good to be a part of this as, before I was a mum, I was a producer for independent productions in Canada, work that I loved. I’m using many of the same skills in both organisations, whether supporting new mums in our community, or nurturing our creative talent. Craft wants to give them the foundation on which to thrive and be the very best they can. And what could be more exciting than to be surrounded by amazing people? For me, it’s not work any more; it’s my absolute passion.”