Award recognises work of rural community

Bernice (Bernie) Lepper, Alexandra

Queens Service Medal (QSM) for services to the community and education

Community education is at the forefront of everything Bernie Lepper does and she has contributed to rural education and community initiatives in Alexandra for many years.

By accepting the award she hoped to inspire others to work collaboratively to get what they wanted for their whānau and community.

Keeping life in balance was not always easy, but the hours she spent running and biking over the years gave her the energy and clarity to work towards the positive goals in the community, she said.

“How fortunate have I been to work for REAP and through education create significant change in people’s lives.”

The award was also important as it acknowledged the work of people in the rural community, she said.

Mrs Lepper had been an integral part of Alexandra Community House and chaired the initial set-up board . When that transitioned to a permanent board, Mrs Lepper stayed on as chairwoman for a further nine years, stepping down in 2022 only because she had reached her term limit.

She played a pivotal role in the design and construction of Alexandra Community House, which is a central hub housing 16 social services agencies, local arts and crafts and used by 150 community groups.

As manager of the Central Otago Rural Education Activities Programme (REAP) since 1998, Mrs Lepper had implemented a variety of social and education initiatives to support vulnerable people in the community, such as Strengthening Families, an Oranga Tamariki project designed to support families and whanau at risk.

During the Covid-19 pandemic she led several REAP initiatives, including establishing the Ministry of Social Development’s community connector role which supported community cohesion and wellbeing. Under her guidance, REAP also partnered with Otago Polytechnic and Community House to provide a learning hub for people without internet access, as well as courses teaching online skills.

For six years Mrs Lepper had been involved with REAP Aotearoa, helping grow the organisation and mentoring education leaders throughout New Zealand.

Mrs Lepper was a trustee of Central Lakes Trust from 2010 to 2019.