Traditional ag day draws support for injured teen

NEW LIFE: Ben Skipper has been adapting to life in a wheel chair since a quad bike accident earlier this year. Supporters at the Matawai School Ag Day include Dean Quinn, Duncan Carmichael, Jesse Palmer, and James Redpath. Photos Carole Redpath

A MATAWAI teen is adapting to life in a wheelchair and his family were overwhelmed when a school’s annual agricultural day doubled as a fundraiser last week.

The annual Gisborne Motors Matawai School Ag Day celebrates rural kids and their farm animals and pets. But this year the traditional country celebration drew bigger crowds than normal, as locals and businesses jumped on board to support 16-year-old former student Ben Skipper.

Ben came off his quad bike earlier this year and has stunned everyone with his pragmatic and positive approach to each new challenge.

The plucky Gisborne Boys’ High School student still helps out on the family farm
with docking and mustering as well as driving diggers, quad bikes, and trucks.

“I’m really grateful to my old school,” says Ben, who expects to be trialling calipers early next year in an effort to stand on his own.

Matawai School senior students know Ben from his time at school, and have been individually raising money by selling cakes and doing chores this term to help out.

But the last thing anyone expected was for businesses to jump on board.
Year 7 student Annabel Hustler says she couldn’t believe it when a Mustang roared onto school grounds.

“Boy it was loud,” says Annabel, who went on to win Supreme Champion Pet during Ag Day with her hunting dog Tip.

Gisborne Motors vehicle sales consultant Dean Quinn organised for the V8 Ford Mustang to be at the school. He says helping the kids support a former student was a no brainer.

“We saw what the senior class was doing raising money and we thought Mustang rides in Matawai might be another fun way to raise funds.”

The Skipper family’s animal health supplier, Veterinary Health Services, also threw its weight in behind the fundraising when it unexpectedly donated an outdoors raffle prize.

Gisborne Helicopters and Hansen & Tomlinson also made donations. As part of a long-standing tradition Rural Fuel donated lunch for the day. Affco representatives judged animals and contributed a meat raffle.

Ben’s father Dave Skipper says Matawai School and the kids have always been behind Ben and the family.

“Right from the day after the accident the school has been in touch asking what it could do to help. Principal Glenn Knight came and visited Ben in hospital in Auckland and that, as well as the individual efforts of kids, means a lot to us.”

Glenn says he knew the local community would help out, but no one could have predicted the overwhelming spontaneous response from businesses.

“Suddenly we had a bumper raffle prize up for grabs. It serves as a reminder that the school is the centre of a community like ours, and we still like to look after each other and lend a hand when needed.”

He predicts around $3000 in total may be raised for Ben if all the raffle tickets, on sale through Matawai School and at the Matawai Hard Drive Café, are sold.

Next year Ben will take part in GBHS’s Gateway programme. Ben will study mechanical engineering spending one day a week at the Eastern Institute of Technology Tairawhiti.

“I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be good!”