Leah Hand admits finding out she'd been nominated as a finalist in Ryman's Young Achiever of the Year award category this year was a huge shock. It wasn't just because she's only been in the role of Assistant to the Manager at Grace Joel for a little over six months, but also the way the news was revealed.

"Murray, my manager, came over and said 'Have you seen the news?' And I thought there'd been some kind of disaster so I went to his office thinking they would have the tv on, and Arthur was in there," she says, laughing at the memory.

"He had the email on his screen which said I'd been nominated in this year's Ryman Awards. I was very surprised! She adds: "I really was in a lot of shock. If it's from when I changed my position and I've got that in six months it's very humbling. And while I don't like photos of myself or hearing about myself it was nice and I felt really good."

While Leah is only 22 she has had a considerable history with Ryman already. She began as a servery assistant at Edmund Hillary village seven years ago and ended up as Assistant to the Manager before switching to the regional office to work in sales support. During this time she also completed her business degree at the University of Auckland. Just before the end of last year she found out she'd got the job at Grace Joel as Assistant to the Manager, Murray Parkes, who took over the role when Arthur Keane was promoted to Regional Operations Manager. One of the biggest challenges Leah faced was the shoes she was filling – her mum Chantelle Hand's!

"Even though it was more fast-paced at Bruce McLaren in some ways it was easier because I had set up all my own systems whereas here I was stepping into Mum's shoes and it was very hard because they were big shoes to fill!"

"I was also worried about the team's perception of me because of my age, but now I feel I have really made my way." "We're a really strong team, and everyone's very supportive of each other. I feel like Grace Joel is a home away from home because we're like one big family."

Leah has been instrumental to the success of several initiatives, including improving systems in the laundry area and improving the respite experience at the village. "We put together a couple of Quality Improvement Plans (QIP) to remedy areas which needed improvement at the village and it is going really well. The entire team pulled together and overall we can see a real improvement in these areas."

Regional operations manager Arthur Keane said he had been really impressed with how Leah had showed determination to succeed in the role, despite finding it difficult at first. "It's a really busy, complex role. You've got to be across occupancy, staff management, compliance and resident satisfaction. "Leah epitomises what a true Rymanian is, she demonstrates care and attention to detail, and she believes in the place, which is proved by the exceptional effort, time and commitment she puts in," he says.

Leah's manager Murray Parkes credited her 'mature and professional work attitude' which was all the more impressive for one so young, and said he was delighted she'd been nominated for the award. "She has accumulated a lot of experience in her time with Ryman and is extremely well organised and efficient. As a result she is a stickler for ensuring things are done accurately, on time, and comply with process and policy. "Leah has been wonderful to work with and I know I can rely on her to get things done."

Not surprisingly, after finding out she'd been made a finalist Leah was quick to call her Mum Chantelle, who recently took over the role of village manager at Bruce McLaren. "She was the first person I told and she said 'Good, because I nominated you! "And I said 'Ooooh, I didn't nominate you!'" she laughs.

"I was also worried about the team's perception of me because of my age, but now I feel I have really made my way."



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