The Grace Foundation expanding to help more ex-prisoners turn lives around, forms first kapa haka group

The Grace Foundation, the largest bail house in Aotearoa, has helped hundreds of former offenders transition out of jail - now it's expanding, enough to form its own kapa haka group that competed this year.

It comes after the foundation started a new kaupapa Māori programme last year that helped reconnect their people to their culture.

The Hui got exclusive access in September to film this programme at The Grace Foundation and to follow some of the people who are turning their lives around. 

Hone Tukariri and his wife Hazel were making huge strides in their shared journey. 

Six months on, The Hui revisited the couple as they got ready to take the stage at the Auckland Regional Kapa Haka competition.

It was a chilly morning in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland as 40 former prisoners prepared to perform.

"We started this journey almost a year ago and I just can't believe that we're here, it's a real blessing and I'm humbled by this experience this morning, it just feels right," Hazel said.

"Putting on a show for our lives and reclaiming our mana," Hone added.

The Hui first met the couple last year when they opened up about their past with violence, gangs and prison.

"The turning point for us was we had a big wakeup call and we went to jail, we both went to jail, that's what brought me to Grace," Hazel said.

With the help of The Grace Foundation, they've transformed their lives alongside hundreds of others.

"It's about realigning people's lives or giving them the opportunity, that's what we offer at Grace - this thing called hope," co-founder David Letele Snr said. 

"So, family, I just really want you to step up today, we are so proud, my wife and I, Tui."

The kaupapa Māori programme they run is expanding.

This year, for the first time they've pulled together a kapa haka group to stand at the Auckland regional competition.

After four weeks of practice, the group was ready to shine on stage.

The group perform.
The group perform. Photo credit: The Hui

"One thing I am looking forward to is showing everybody out there that change is possible. We went from sitting in jail to being on stage performing," Hone said.

"Our kids go to kura kaupapa and we're learning together so I feel like my cup is full," Hazel added.

"Last night I was practising with our second-eldest daughter and she was quite surprised, you know, 'mum you've grown, you're doing well' and it just makes my heart warm inside."

Last year the couple took a big step in their journey reclaiming their identity through moko.

"I feel like a different person, you know, getting this done just renewed me - feels like being reborn," Hazel said.

"Change is possible, you know, it's just how much are you willing to change," Hone added.

Six months on, Hone and Hazel are still on their path - but are thanking the foundation for where they are now.

"To be part of this kapa haka it's kind of like we keep in a straight walk, getting my mataora, getting my pūhoro, coming back into te ao Māori, doing it with my children, doing it with my wife, and doing it with the Grace Foundation, the place that helped save me, it saved me," Hone said.

Hone Tukariri and his wife Hazel.
Hone Tukariri and his wife Hazel. Photo credit: The Hui

As they set off, it's with the support of the whole Grace whānau. 

"It's just a beautiful feeling to just know who you are and where you're from and that's what we claim back here at Grace is your mana.

"Te ao Māori, and all cultures really, is when you know yourself, when you have that as part of your healing.

"They call it te ao Pakeha therapeutic community but this is cultural identity," Hazel said.

"When you know who you are, you know where you're going and you have more purpose. So changing that pain into purpose is what we've done as a whānau so the blessing is in the next generation."

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.