‘We found our happy place here’

Nancy and John Keith, of Seattle, are volunteering at the Masters Games again this week. PHOTO:...
Nancy and John Keith, of Seattle, are volunteering at the Masters Games again this week. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Nancy and John Keith are the type of people every community needs.

They are hard-working folk behind the scenes, giving up their time to help make their chosen home a better place.

The United States couple, who are based in Seattle for half the year and Dunedin the other half, have volunteered across Canada, Australia and New Zealand — and are back volunteering at the Masters Games this week.

They are returning for their third spell at the games, after volunteering at the Dunedin edition in 2020, having stumbled across the event when they were volunteering for the Department of Conservation.

"We saw the things about Masters Games, so we just wandered into the centre there and said ‘how can we volunteer?’," John said.

"They signed us up and we were out on the track and field," Nancy quipped.

The couple, who also volunteered in Whanganui last year, loved the Masters Games and reconnecting with people they volunteered alongside previously, and hailed volunteer co-ordinator Emma Wood a "rock star".

"Everybody’s so welcoming and everyone’s on the same team," Nancy said.

After first visiting New Zealand on a campervan trip in 2017, John and Nancy ended up in Dunedin, gravitating towards the city’s "wonderful friendly vibe’,’ and have since used it as their home base in New Zealand.

Their careers in public service led them to volunteering, wanting to make a difference and contribute to a community, John said.

They volunteer extensively for Doc and Forest and Bird, including around the Catlins and on Stewart Island, and helped the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust with planting at Long Point. They are also volunteering for their third New Zealand Open later this month.

Being able to see the difference they made through their volunteer work had been satisfying.

"We can go back to some places where we did some, particularly weed work, and see it improve," Nancy said.

"It’s just really satisfying, it’s nurturing. It’s joyful to us to feel like we’re helping somebody."

Volunteering had taken them around the world, helping as penguin guides in Tasmania, and at highland games in Canada, and they hoped to help in British Columbia later this year.

But the support, and knowledge, they received from other volunteers in New Zealand — including the Masters Games — had been incredible, they said.

"We cannot tell you how appreciative we are," Nancy said.

"This is our joy. We found our happy place here."