Pillars is led by Chief Executive and Founder, Verna McFelin, MNZM who has spent over 30 years struggling to gain justice for New Zealand children who have a parent in prison.
In 1983 her husband was arrested and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. It became a life for the children of constantly moving around, changing schools, being stigmatised and bullied and having no friends. They were serving a sentence of their own through a crime they did not commit.
It didn’t take Verna long to realise that there was little help and support for the families and children of prisoners. She met other caregivers and their children during prison visits and set up support groups.
In 1988, she established Pillars which has developed into a national organisation upholding the rights of children of prisoners. In the 30 years since, she has worked tirelessly to lead Pillars and to advocate for the rights of children of prisoners.
Pillars punches above its weight in the international field of development policies and practices. Verna was instrumental in creating the Children Bill of Rights for children who have a parent in prison.
Verna is proud to say that she has now a team of specialist staff delivering Pillars services throughout New Zealand. But she feels the real heroes of the programmes are our volunteers who give up their weekends and spare time to mentor hundreds of children who are facing some of the most challenging and difficult times in their lives.
Verna’s dream, she believes, is easily realised. “There are 23,000 children who have a parent in prison in New Zealand. They are 9.5 times likely to end up in prison than their peers. Mentor these children and we could halve New Zealand’s crime rate in 10 years!”