Our People

The executive team at Pillars

Pillars has been working in the community for more than 30 years. The organisation was founded by Verna McFelin who had concerns that the children of prisoners were invisible and not receiving the support they needed to succeed.


The organisation has grown to embrace families and whanau in several centres in New Zealand.

Meet our executive team below.

The Executive Team

Verna McFelin MNZM
Founder /
Chief Executive

Verna established Pillars more than 30 years ago and has been Chief Executive since then. She is a strong advocate for the rights of the children of prisoners in New Zealand. Verna has spoken at many international and national conferences and holds several awards for her efforts.

Maxine Gay
Northern Regional Manager

Maxine has joined the Pillars whanau after 35 years working in a variety of leadership roles in the Trade Union Movement here in New Zealand and Internationally. She has a passion for social justice and has committed herself to working with the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society.

Lesley Kelly
Southern Regional Manager

Lesley has worked in the non-profit and public sectors for more than 40 years including 18 years in senior management positions. Her life’s work has been dedicated to assisting whanau/families in their pursuit of wellbeing including social inclusion.

Leanne Ryburn
Development Manager

Leanne has a wide range of experience in general fundraising over many years. She has worked for several organisations including Canteen, Starship and the Help Foundation.

Michelle Mathijssen
Executive Assistant / Project Manager

Michelle worked as a physiotherapist for children with disabilities for many years before moving into management roles with the DHB and more recently with CanTeen.  Work that supports vulnerable children and youth is core to her values.

Auction donation
to Pillars

A spontaneous gesture resulted in a donation of $2000 to Pillars.

Find out more >