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Group enabling good lives for all

Families gather for a workshop on individualised funding for disabled people – organised by Good Lives Wairarapa. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Meaningful pathways for disabled people

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

A “dynamic” group of Wairarapa families have joined forces to help empower the region’s disabled community to lead their best lives.

Last year, Carterton couple Chris Hollis and Anita Nicholls founded Good Lives Wairarapa, a whanau-lead organisation set up to assist disabled people to participate more fully in their communities – by expanding opportunities in education, employment, sport, and creativity.

The group, which meets monthly to discuss project ideas, has four broad aims: to educate families about services and funding mechanisms available in Wairarapa; help families co-ordinate care and support for their children; build a stronger link with the sporting community through Special Olympics New Zealand; and to establish “programmes of meaningful activities” and work experiences for disabled people.

This includes creating social enterprises which employ disabled workers – allowing them to discover new career pathways, expand their knowledge, and build community connections.

Chris and Anita, parents to two adult children with learning disabilities, were inspired to set up Good Lives Wairarapa after their 25-year-old son James returned to Wairarapa after having lived a residential service in the Hutt Valley.

They found there were few disability-specific services in Wairarapa that catered to James’ needs – and even fewer opportunities for work and education, or accessible activities he could get involved in.

Hoping to establish some services of their own, Chris and Anita approached community development organisation Ka Pai Carterton, which put them in touch with other parents who were facing similar barriers.

The couple were thrilled to not only connect with whanau “in the same boat” – but to meet a group of people with a similar vision, and a range of skills sets, expertise, and community networks.

“We were hoping we’d at least meet one or two families who understood what we were dealing with,” Anita said.

James Hollis, on the tractor at his family’s farm, hopes to be involved in a new composting-based social enterprise.

“What we found was an incredibly dynamic group of people, who were keen to pool their resources and work together to create opportunities for our children.

“It’s our dream to set up a rich array of activities that disabled people can tap into based on their different interests and strengths.

“We want our children to have opportunities to work, learn new skills, engage with others, and to have places where they can feel welcome and safe.

“Being able to participate in your community is essential for a positive sense of self – and disabled people deserve that opportunity as much as anyone else.”

Chris and Anita said Wairarapa parents face many barriers to finding support for their disabled children – particularly for adults.

At present, there are only four providers in the region who can offer supported independent care for disabled people – as well few options for respite care, and a dwindling number of community day services.

For example, Carterton’s IDEA Services day base closed last year.

There are also a limited number of services and opportunities for children once they leave school – which inspired Good Lives Wairarapa member Rebecca Stevens to start up the Mahi Tahi Tatou Charitable Trust, to help create more education and employment opportunities.

In addition, Chris said, community organisations are not always accessible: either overwhelming for people with sensory processing difficulties, or reticent to accept disabled members due to health and safety concerns.

So, James’ parents took matters into their own hands: helping him create his own in-home ceramics studio after he taught himself pottery via Youtube and hiring a former professional chef to give him cooking lessons.

“Doing these things has absolutely improved James’ well-being – but it’s all been driven by us,” Chris said.

“There’s been hardly any activities he can just walk into. And that’s what we’re hoping to change.”

Since meeting for the first time last year, Good Lives Wairarapa has set up a social 10-pin bowling team for disabled people and their whanau, is organising a furniture upholstery workshop, and is supporting the Mahi Tahi Tatou Charitable Trust to establish a new day base in Masterton.

A new gardening enterprise is also in the planning: expanding on James’ work with South End School, collecting used coffee grounds from cafes to use as compost.

This week, Good Lives Wairarapa hosted a workshop on individualised funding – allowing disabled people and whanau to have more control over their supports – at Carterton Events Centre

Rebecca said the group hopes to offer support to whanau as they navigate individualised funding for their children – which can be challenging to figure out at first.

“There’s so much to work out: finding support staff, sorting out employment contracts, finding activity programmes, linking in with the community,” she said.

“It can be pretty daunting when you’ve got everything on your shoulders. So, we wanted families to come together to support one another on the journey.”

Ka Pai Carterton continues to support Good Lives Wairarapa: providing a meeting space, funding this week’s workshop, and helping the group develop a website to keep the community informed of funding information, upcoming events, and work opportunities.

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