Work for those with challenges
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.