Work for those with chal­lenges

Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE - Lau­rilee McMichael

They may not fit well into your stan­dard work­place — but they still have a con­tri­bu­tion to make.

It’s try­ing to find a niche for peo­ple who have left school but who might strug­gle to hold down a job in the main­stream work­force that new Taupo¯ trust DNA wants to achieve.

DNA, which stands for Di­verse Needs As­sis­tance, was set up by Taupo¯ women Jo Dou­glas, Jo Mof­fat and Gaye Var­ti­ainen, and is be­ing mod­elled on the suc­cess­ful South Waikato Achievement Trust in Toko­roa.

DNA was born out of the former Taupo¯ Asperg­ers Sup­port Group, which was set up in 2008 with the aim of rais­ing aware­ness and se­cur­ing fund­ing for the Taupo district to have its own Autism NZ sup­port worker, which was achieved in 2011 when Jo Mof­fat took up the po­si­tion.

Now the goal is to pro­vide mean­ing­ful em­ploy­ment for peo­ple with chal­lenges.

Gaye Var­ti­ainen says DNA’s ser­vice will be aimed at young adults with chal­lenges such as autism, anx­i­ety, learn­ing chal­lenges, or so­cial dif­fi­cul­ties that make it dif­fi­cult for them to be em­ployed in the main­stream work­force and who may not be in work or train­ing.

She says many of the young adults in Taupo¯ who can’t work be­cause of their chal­lenges just stay at home all day af­ter leav­ing school, although some go to IDEA Ser­vices.

DNA hopes to emu­late the achieve­ments of the South Waikato Achievement Trust (SWAT), which was set up in Toko­roa in the 1970s and pro­vides a range of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and ser­vices for adults with chal­lenges. Gaye says what has been key to its suc­cess is that it is fully em­braced by its lo­cal com­mu­nity, which draws on its work­ers for help with projects, sup­ports its ser­vices and shop, and pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties. For in­stance, Red Cross uses peo­ple from SWAT to staff its col­lec­tion ta­bles dur­ing ap­peals.

“Hav­ing a shop in town means th­ese peo­ple are right in town, they’re part of the com­mu­nity, they’ve val­ued, they’re seen as an in­te­gral part of the town,” Gaye says.

SWAT has a cre­ative arts shop which sells art and runs art lessons, has a veg­etable garden, holds the con­tract to col­lect and sort the town’s re­cy­cling, has a kin­dling-mak­ing fac­tory and a re­cy­cling cen­tre for elec­tron­ics where old com­put­ers and elec­tri­cal items are dis­man­tled and the metal com­po­nents sorted for re­use. All the busi­nesses are self­sus­tain­ing and the work­ers are paid to work there. They ro­tate around the var­i­ous roles to keep things in­ter­est­ing, although Gaye says some peo­ple, such as a man who pulls apart used bul­lets to re­trieve the brass, pre­fer to have just one role.

The work­ers are busy all day and have peo­ple to talk to and work to do.

“Some [work­ers] have got so­cial is­sues but there’s mu­sic and peo­ple they know and they’re fine although they may be too anx­ious for a main­stream job.”

Be­cause the em­pha­sis is on in­de­pen­dence, SWAT also op­er­ates flats for peo­ple to live in in­de­pen­dently and a res­i­den­tial home for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. They are sup­ported by care­givers who help the res­i­dents as needed, and do things like or­gan­ise out­ings for gro­cery shop­ping.

Gaye says while the SWAT model is rare in New Zealand, it is com­mon in some coun­tries such as Swe­den and the goal is to pro­vide real work that en­ables peo­ple to con­trib­ute to their com­mu­nity. From there some peo­ple will move into paid em­ploy­ment else­where, while oth­ers will re­main in­def­i­nitely be­cause they can’t hold down a job in the out­side world.

“It gives them mean­ing­ful work to do, a place to go where they feel val­ued and they make a con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety plus so­cial con­tact and in­de­pen­dence as well as earn money of their own. This is what we want to achieve in Taupo.”

Gaye says the first step is a meet­ing next Thurs­day even­ing for peo­ple to learn more about DNA and ex­plain the con­cept of repli­cat­ing SWAT’s work in Taupo.

“We want to share our ideas with par­ents so they know what DNA is and what we’re about and what we’re try­ing to achieve, make it an in­for­ma­tion even­ing.”

She says the next move would be to take a group of peo­ple to Toko­roa to see what SWAT is do­ing and be­come in­spired. She says the lo­cal St John com­mit­tee has al­ready in­di­cated that if DNA can come up with a busi­ness model such as a work­ing laun­dry, then they would look at go­ing into part­ner­ship.

“We want to in­form peo­ple about what di­rec­tion we should take as a town.”

■ The DNA in­for­ma­tion meet­ing will be held on Thurs­day, August 31 at 5.30pm at ADDI, on the cor­ner of Opepe and Waikato streets, Taupo¯.

MEAN­ING­FUL WORK: A worker re­cy­cling e-waste from elec­tron­ics at South Waikato Achievement Trust in Toko­roa. Taupo¯ trust DNA wants to pro­vide sim­i­lar em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for adults with chal­lenges in Taupo.

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