Providing Pathways With Purpose
Wednesday, 29th June 2016 at 9:50 am
With the NDIS rollout just days away, disability service providers must embrace innovation and business thinking, just like Not for Profit Radius, which has strived to be a leader in the space for decades, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
For 62 years Radius, based in Bendigo, Victoria, has provided specialist care for people with disability, offering both high and low level support.
Anni Heenan began as a volunteer with Radius 11 years ago, and was then employed as a team leader for the support services, which primarily run Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm and have a strong focus on community engagement.
“We run lots of different activities, we try to go into the community as much as possible,” Heenan said.
“For example… we have a service that we call Social Adventures, which provides for people to go on outings, to dinner, movies, to the theatre.
“We just had a group go to Tahiti, we had a group go to America, so it’s providing a service for getting people out in the community that they don’t normally have options to, outside of that 9am to 3pm day service.
“That’s been very successful, people who probably would not have thought that they could go on a holiday have been able to go on a holiday. We also have respite, after-hours care as well.”
More recently, Heenan moved into the organisation’s corporate area, as its social enterprise initiatives continue to grow.
Radius started MJ’s Training and Pathways to provide training and employment opportunities for people with disability, while also generating income for the Not for Profit.
The social enterprise won the 2015 Victorian Disability Sector Award for Excellence in Improving Learning and Development Outcomes.
A large number of its projects are run from the three-storey Morley Johnson Building, trading as Morley’s Emporium, in the heart of Bendigo.
“Downstairs we’ve got a retail shop, we have supported employees there to do weaving, art and design, sewing, so they make products for the shop, and we buy stock for the shop as well,” Heenan said.
“We also have a cafe, we have supported employees that work in front of house. We have the kitchen which provides food for the cafe, and we have supported employees working there.
“We’ve also started this year, which is what I’ve taken over, the catering, and people can book out our rooms for functions and we provide the catering. We also deliver catering outside as well, so that’s really taking off, and we’re getting really great feedback about it.
“For example, Down Syndrome Victoria ran their workshop from our Morley Johnson building and we provided the catering. A training organisation has just booked out some of the training rooms for the rest of the year.”
Heenan said Radius also secures contracts from businesses in the community.
“We have a screen printing section, so we get jobs for screen printing. We also have small packaging and collating,” she said.
“At the moment supported employees are packing blue towels for the Lotus Foundation. Or they might pack up nuts and bolts and put the label on.”
But she said a challenge was securing the support of the community, and “getting the community to recognise that people with disability do have abilities and can fit in”.
“They all have varying abilities and there are certain things that they are more than competent to do,” she said.
Heenan said the organisation was also looking to expand its social enterprise initiatives, which she said was a vital mindset with the NDIS rollout.
“It’s going to be whether you stay alive or not, unfortunately. It’s great for the people with disability, but you have to stay relevant and you have to be viable in today’s market,” she said.
Radius Environmental Services was established to provide value to its community while also offering additional employment opportunities.
“Supported employees mow peoples’ lawns, they also have a contract to empty all the clothing recycle bins,” Heenan said.
“Another great thing we’ve just got is people can drop off old TVs and computers and they disassemble them all, and they recycle it to the proper areas to help landfill.”
Heenan said the aim of the social enterprise was to provide proper pathways for people with disability to enjoy a life of meaningful employment.
“History sort of tells us that people went to a supported workshop and they would stay there for the rest of their working life,” she said.
“Whereas we are really focused on getting a pathway of people coming and recognising their ability and getting them the training they need and then getting them work experience and/or the end result is getting them a position in open employment.
“We’ve had one young lady just taken on one day a week at one of our local banks, which we’re all very excited about. We had another gentleman who was placed at the post office. And we actually had one of our supported employees go for an interview with a building company.”
Radius has partnered with Southern Grampians Adult Education to provide accredited training to people with disability.
“All of our supported employees, who want to do it, are doing Certificate I in Transition Education,” Heenan said.
“We’ve got about 80 supported employees working nights for an accredited training certificate. That’s pretty exciting.”
She said the sense of self-satisfaction of their clients is proof that their pathways programs have impact.
“They’re doing real, worthwhile jobs that suit their interests and capabilities. It gives them confidence, it gives them dignity, it gives them inclusion. Everything that people talk about is what we’re managing to do,” she said.
“Everyone who comes into the Morley Johnson Building also comments on what a great feel it is and you see the supported employees, they’re confident, they’re comfortable, they’re proud, because they’re doing a job just like the rest of us.
“It keeps us relevant and it makes us as an organisation true to what the expectation of a good disability service provider is.”