Our People

Our Higher Ground Papa Taumata whānau are dedicated to helping those experiencing severe addiction.

Who we are

The Higher Ground Papa Taumata whānau work to collectively dedicate their skills, experience, diversity and aspirations to support our tāngata whai ora (residents) and their whānau to live the lives they want, free from addiction.

Ngā Āriki

Our Leadership Team

Our Higher Ground Papa Taumata whānau is led by a diverse team with a wealth of experience in the addictions sector. They are committed to fulfilling our vision of providing a transformational programme for people experiencing severe addiction, supporting recovery for them and their whānau.

Programme Director | Pouwhakahaere

Maree Matthews

Pākeha New Zealander

My connection to Higher Ground Papa Taumata started in 2011, when I first stepped through the doors, I felt I had found my place. I started as a support worker, then moved into clinical roles before finally taking on the Programme Director’s role in early 2023. It is a privilege to lead our organisation and witness the miracle that is recovery- restoring people back to wellness for themselves, their whānau and the wider community. My clinical, business management and lived experience has built a strong team of leaders who uphold the mission of the organisation.

Whakaohooho to ngākau motuhake, hei piki ake te ora. Transformation will occur when the heart is open.

Pou Whirinaki | Cultural Advisor

Robert Tua

Te Āti Awa- Iwi, Manukorihi- hapu

Ko Ngāpuhi, Ko Ngāti Kahu, Ko Te Atiawa, Ko Ngāti Mutunga ōku iwi. Ko Robert Tua tōku ingoa. I am the Pou Whirinaki (Cultural Advisor) for Higher Ground Papa Taumata. I have a strong affiliation to my tribal connections in Matangirau, Te Tai Tokerau and Waitara, Taranaki.

My background is in counselling within the alcohol and drug sector. My aspirations are to create equal opportunities for anyone that has reached a certain stage in their lives on how they can better themselves. This includes giving them a better understanding and insight of how kaupapa Māori can enrich their recovery and the wellbeing of their whanau.

Finance and Operations Manager

Alwyn Jones

Pākeha New Zealander

I’m Alwyn, and I’m responsible for Higher Ground's finance and operational management and joined the organisation in late 2022. I bring a broad experience in finance and operations and have a degree in International Business and Finance. I thoroughly enjoy my role and the many complex layers of the Therapeutic Community.

I have wider NGO experience, previously serving as a board member and treasurer for the Prader Willi Syndrome Association NZ.

Clinical Operations Manager & Psychotherapist

Gaytri Ekamparam

Malaysian born Indian

I started at Higher Ground as a psychotherapy student on placement which was the most challenging period of my life but also where I found my sense of belonging and my calling. There is a parallel process between a client’s journey through treatment and a therapist’s journey in working in a therapeutic community. Higher Ground has helped me find my voice, my identity as a therapist, my authority as a woman and the courage to embrace my imperfections. I started my role as the Team Leader on the Residential team in 2007 and I moved into my role as the Clinical Operations Manager in 2023. I’m grateful to work with an amazing group of dedicated clinicians, turning up every morning wanting the best outcome for our clients.
I’m also in private practice to continue to do the work I love – supporting people to reach their potential.

Clinical Manager – Te Whare Taonga

Tash Cairns

Pākeha New Zealander

My connection with Higher Ground goes back many years. Professionally, I started at Higher Ground in the Community Team in 2019. I moved into my current role as the Clinical Manager for our māmā and pēpi program in 2022. Recovery and motherhood have been the two biggest blessings in my life. I feel both privileged and humbled to lead a service which invests and values both.

I have a Degree in Addiction Studies and I am an Accredited Clinical Supervisor (DAPAANZ).

Residential Senior Team leader

James Kolose

Samoan - Fagali’i, Savaii and Vailima, Upolu

I am heading into my 20th year here at Higher Ground. I have witnessed and experienced many significant changes over the years in the program, the culture, and colleagues. It is an ever-evolving environment to work in, which is a significant reason of my longevity. It’s humbling origins from Parnell to Te Atatu, has been the foresight of the men and women that visualised this as its future. Being a NZ-born Samoan Clinician in Higher Ground has been educative, challenging, humility building and fun. From a Pacific Island lense, ‘ALOFA’ has been the basis of what drives me to continue to work with addicted men and women that have separated themselves from family, friends, and community. The 12-step philosophy and recovery here at Higher Ground aligns with my personal beliefs. My name is James and I am an addict/alcoholic, with 32 years of sobriety.

Community Senior Team Leader

Maja Vraco


I have been with Higher Ground since 2021 initially joining as a Community Counsellor before moving into my current role as a Community Team Leader 18 months ago. I completed a Diploma in Applied Addictions in 2019 and recently became an accredited supervisor.

My passion for supporting others in their recovery journey comes from having lived experience of addiction. Having also come through the programme 10 years ago has given me an opportunity to have a different life not only for myself but also for my son and my family.

Human Resource Manager

Carlene Clarke

Pākeha New Zealander

I joined Higher Ground in November 2020 as the Human Resource Administrator and have never looked back. With the support and encouragement from those around me I began as the Human Resource Manager in May 2022.

I am a strong believer in HR being able to make a significant and positive contribution to an organisation’s success; supporting management and staff and allowing them to focus on what they do best.

Real Stories

"You start to form families here, you don't really expect to do that but I've found a, a new family here."

— Gene

Watch Gene's story

Our staff

Our Kaimahi

Our kaupapa underpins everything we do. Our kaimahi (staff) describe the privilege of working alongside tāngata whaiora (residents) on their recovery journey. They work to instil hope and create opportunities for tāngata whaiora to reach their full potential.

We employ highly skilled, qualified and experienced kaimahi/staff from a variety of relevant backgrounds. Many have lived experience of addiction and recovery.

Who we are

Our Board

Higher Ground Papa Taumata Board is responsible for guiding and supporting our leadership team and kaimahi (staff) to achieve our purpose. Board members bring a range of skills and experience, including lived experience of addiction and recovery, and Māori perspectives. They have extensive skills and experience across health and social services, financial management, accounting and law.

Our board are:

Janine Parsons | Board Chair Operations Director, Senior Public Servant, Ngāti Te Wairere hapū, Waikato Tainui Te Iwi She/Her Marino Te Moana Sherwin | Māori Advisor Minister B.Theology, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Tūrangi Tukua Te Hapū, Ngāti Kahunungu ki Wairoa, Ngāpuhi Hokianga She/Her Paul O’Sullivan Chief Financial Officer (retired) Pakeha He/Him Shane Hussey Chartered Accountant, Pakeha He/Him Fiona Howard Clinical Psychologist Pakeha She/Her Paula Parsonage Contractor - Mental Health and Addiction Sector, Pakeha She/Her Dr William Rainger Medical Practitioner Pakeha He/Him Antonia Fisher KC Barrister Pakeha She/Her

Our learnings

Dig into our research