How Tonia Supports Her Clients By Being a Bit Extra

Tonia, a Somoan woman, sits in an Aviva office looking at the camera happily.

The word most often used to describe Tonia is “extra.”

She is loud, full of energy, and not above breaking out her dance moves at any given moment. She is also one of the most versatile support workers at Aviva, working with youth, people experiencing violence, and people using violence. She does it all. Whether it is bursting into song to engage a teenage girl or foregoing paperwork to go on a walk with her client, she knows exactly how to channel that personality to help others.

“With our clients they’re really just looking for someone to listen to them. It’s all about having a real conversation.”

Tonia will help facilitate those conversations by being her authentic “extra” self, but she will also support her youth clients to receive singing, boxing, or hip hop classes to help them feel more at ease. “I find out what they’re into and then I think, ‘How can I support this?’ Afterwards, they’re so much more relaxed. That engagement is already there, and the conversations just flow.”

That open relationship also helps her clients be more open to difficult discussions, such as their use of violence.

“I do have some men or women who will sit here and completely minimise what they’ve done. A lot of my conversations are about challenging their perceptions around their behavior. With the iceberg model, we take a deep look into the underlying factors of their anger and once we begin to unpack these feelings, a lot will start to surface – lost job, no money for petrol, the rent is overdue, son forgot to take out the rubbish. When they’ve had that big explosion, other people think they’ve lost it over the tiniest thing, but for them it wasn’t just one thing. 

“That’s when I see that lightbulb moment and they see where they need to be.”

This work is especially meaningful for Tonia because of where she came from. “For me, growing up in the Pacific Island community, family violence was such a common occurrence. Once I became a mum, I wanted to make sure my son was not exposed to that same culture. I wanted to make sure that cycle was broken. My community didn’t know the impacts of family violence; they didn’t have that education. I want to learn about violence and teach others in our community, if not for ourselves, for our kids.”

Tonia is currently involved in a new project called “Seuga,” aimed at bringing family violence education to Pasifika communities to help combat the higher rates of violence in them. “What I find different with Aviva is that we don’t just talk about it, we actually reach out to the communities that need us. We cover their petrol costs to get here, we pick them up, we go into their homes.

“We are really flexible with how we engage and remove any barriers that are there. If something doesn’t fit within the system, we try to make it work, like with Seuga.”

Aviva is so happy to have someone like Tonia on our staff, even if it’s just to keep us all on our toes!

“I don’t care what you’ve done, or what your partner or child has done. If you are willing to do the mahi and take in that education, you can come to us. We work with anybody. Whether it’s through words, drawings on the board, or a walk outside, it’s my obligation to figure out how to build you up.”