A green thumbs-up: Lachlan finds his calling outdoors.

When Lachlan joined Uniting’s Pathways 2 Employment group in Melton in 2022, setting off on a pathway to a career – let alone finding something he enjoyed – seemed beyond his reach.

For Lachlan – and for so many young people living with disabilities – misconceptions about psycho-social disabilities and a lack of awareness mean that a young person’s goals and dreams can remain unrealised. Well-meaning teachers, health professionals and family members can assume that milestones such as fulfilling employment, romantic relationships, and overseas travel aren’t possible for people living with a disability. As a result, a young person may not believe that their goals are achievable or try to explore these big life moments.

Assumptions about someone’s potential often come from a place of wanting to protect the person living with a disability, or keep them safe from disappointment. And while this is helpful in some situations, it can take a toll on confidence and development.

Programs such as Pathways 2 Employment (known by the NDIS name School Leaver Employment Supports or SLES) provide one-on-one, tailored support to explore goals, develop skills, and practice being out in the world as an independent adult – things many of us take for granted. And for people like Lachlan, these tailored supports mean he can understand himself better, try new things in a positive environment, and see a future that belongs to him.

When Lachlan started Pathways 2 Employment he was very quiet. “He didn’t feel confident when speaking with new people”, says Nicole Ferlazzo – Pathways 2 Employment Community Relations Coordinator.

“And he didn’t know what he wanted to do. He had never had the chance to explore his potential”.

Psycho-social disabilities – one of many so-called ‘hidden disabilities’ – can make it difficult for people to identify what supports they need. And people living with a hidden disability don’t always know what they need, until they get out and experience it. It can be hard to articulate what they will benefit from.

For Lachlan, being encouraged to explore his skills, and try a range of activities in a supportive environment meant that he eventually started to enjoy and excel at certain hands-on tasks.

“The big shift for him was starting hands on activities in work placement where he really shone and had the opportunity to show what he could do,” says Nicole.

Then Lachlan started his work experience at True Green Nursery, with the help of his Employment Coordinator. His tasks include moving stock, watering plants, weeding and tidying up garden beds, trimming plants and hedges, and helping customers take purchases to their cars.

And Lachlan continues to excel. “At a recent catch up with his work placement supervisor it was suggested that Lachlan could obtain a Bob Cat Skid Steer licence – something he never would have considered when he started with us”, Nicole says.

“Seeing his confidence build, and the smile on Lachlan’s face – we know this program works”, says Nicole. “It makes the team so proud to see him continue on this exciting journey.”

Learn more about School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES).

Being a Parent: Salma’s resilience in a new country.

Salma is a mother of two, who went through different cultural and life pressures as a refugee, moving between the countries of Iraq and Jordan, and now living in Australia.

Salma came to the Being a Parent (BaP) program overwhelmed and anxious about raising her children in a new country. She was uncertain and lacking clarity on the approach to parenting, driving her to the brink of madness. It has manifested in not allowing her children to play, move around, or express their feelings and thoughts. It also came to a point where she felt that her family was not welcome in Australia.

When she saw an advertisement for BaP, Salma wanted to make changes. She enrolled in the BaP course and attended weekly. Feeling inspired by the bicultural family mentors and other parents in the group, she felt empowered and eager to make positive changes.

“I learn[ed] to understand children’s behaviour and I learn[ed] to let my children express their emotions. I feel better with myself and with my kids, and I started treating them better by implementing a routine,” Salma said

BaP is part of Uniting’s Communities for Children Hume program and is a free 9-week course targeted at bringing up confident, sociable, and happy children and families in Australia.

The program tackles understanding a child’s behaviour, clear communication and listening through play, discipline strategies, and other parenting topics. It is an opportunity to meet other parents and share the rewards and challenges of parenthood.

For Salma, it also helped that the program she attended was delivered in Arabic.

As opposed to what she felt prior, Salma has now gained confidence in parenting. With the support of bicultural mentors, she was referred to English classes which enabled her to enrol her child in kinder. It also provided her an opportunity to engage in the kinder program and read bilingual stories for the children.

“I am so glad I joined the program, the program was more than [a] learning journey, it is [a] daily practice, I feel [like] a good enough parent,” she said.

Uniting through its Communities for Children Hume Program has been collaborating with VICSEG New Futures to implement the Being a Parent – Hume Peer-led Parenting Project since 2017, funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

Learn more about Communities for Children Hume.

Learn more about Uniting’s Multicultural Support Services.

*This is a true story about real people, based on a project report provided by VICSEG New Futures.
*Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the people featured. The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the people featured in this story.

A drive for difference: Jasdeep’s happiness stems from helping others.

It was working amidst the pumps and petrol fumes of a service station in southeast Tasmania that Jasdeep reached the revelation that something had to be done.

“I was working at a petrol station in Hobart, and I was seeing how people were struggling to afford food or didn’t have a home to go back to.

“After seeing this I thought I should do something.”

With a determination to effect change in her community, Jasdeep enrolled into a Diploma of Community Services and found herself volunteering at the Uniting Emergency Relief centre in Hobart.

She marvelled at how gratifying this work was.

“The best thing was seeing the smile on people’s faces,” she said.

“To see how happy and grateful they were for support. It made me feel like I was doing something right.”

The national cost-of-living crisis and housing emergency has seen many Tasmanians plunged into a state of desperation as they worry how they will keep their pantries stocked and afford to keep a roof over their heads.

“I see so many people come through our Uniting services and say they haven’t eaten for two or three, sometimes even four, days. It’s so disturbing,” said Jasdeep.

“When we provide them food or vouchers, they sometimes cry and ask to hug you. They are so pleased, so happy. I can’t even put it into words.”

Volunteering with Uniting has helped Jasdeep and her family gain a newfound appreciation for their own life circumstances.

“This work has had a huge impact on my son too,” says Jasdeep.

“Sometimes my son, who is turning five, would come to volunteering with me if there wasn’t anyone at home to look after him.

“After that, he started valuing the things that he has. Now he always says, ‘Mama I have enough. Mama, take these toys next time, you can give them to the other kids who need them.’

“He is also always saying to his Dad not to waste food.”

Through volunteering Jasdeep has found her passion for helping others.

“Everyone needs to work for money but if we get the chance to do volunteer work, we can learn how to help people. That’s where real happiness comes from, helping others,” she said.

“Even if you can only volunteer for a few hours, it will still impact your whole life and perspective.

Learn more about volunteering at Uniting.

The heart of business: U Ethical’s community commitment pays dividends.

For the team at U Ethical, simply offering volunteer days in their volunteering policy wasn’t sufficient.

“Having paid volunteer days in your policy isn’t enough. You need to actually action things and move them along. Many companies have a volunteering policy but team members never use it,” said U Ethical Executive Assistant, Alex.

“It needs to be pushed internally. Companies need to organise it.

“Luckily, our CEO, Mat, was very keen to have this executed. There is definitely a need for someone at leadership level championing it.”

As one of Australia’s largest dedicated ethical investment managers and a social enterprise of the Uniting Church, giving back to the community through volunteering was an obvious choice for U Ethical.

“As a sibling institution of the Uniting Church and knowing the great work Uniting does to support those experiencing vulnerability, it was perfectly logical for U Ethical’s team to volunteer with Uniting,” said U Ethical’s Chief Executive Officer, Mathew Browning.

“We are very grateful for the opportunity to support Uniting’s work in our small way. Volunteering provides a natural avenue for our team members to serve the broader community in a meaningful way.”

To pull this perk from their policy and into practice, Alex organised a fortnightly volunteer roster, pairing colleagues with someone they might not typically work within the office.

“I believe the pairings have made for better connections and it has helped teams integrate more,” said Alex.

Teams volunteered at Uniting’s emergency relief centre in Prahran, delivering food to those in the community seeking food relief.

“Every recipient was extremely grateful to receive the assistance of food supplies.” said Alex.

“It’s overwhelming to see the need and how thankful people are when you do provide that support. Community support is very rewarding.”

“Despite the vicissitudes of life, most of us are very fortunate to live relatively comfortable and productive lives. Volunteering provides an opportunity for team members to look outside ‘the bubble’ and appreciate the needs of the broader community,” added Mat.

Mat and Alex encourage other businesses to consider implementing paid volunteer days.

“I absolutely encourage other businesses to volunteer,” said Alex.

“It’s certainly worthwhile for companies to get behind, even if they can only offer one day per year. We have had only positive feedback from the team.”

Mat added, “Volunteering is often seen as part of the soft stuff in business. But it has tangible business benefits in improving team engagement and cohesion.”

Learn more about volunteering at Uniting.

From grief to giving back: Camaro’s compassionate calling.

The pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt. And as communities grappled with the challenges of lockdowns and social isolation, Camaro found herself navigating an additional layer of hardship: the sudden loss of her mother.

In the aftermath of this profound loss, Camaro sought solace and connection through volunteering.

“I lost my Mum during Covid,” she said.

“She got sick and passed away quite unexpectedly. Volunteering brought me back into the community.”

A chance encounter with an old colleague-turned-friend at a department store led Camaro to a volunteer opportunity at Uniting.

Her friend, an employee of Uniting, encouraged her to volunteer with the Home and Community Care Program for Younger People in Sale. This program supports those living with disability, mental illness or chronic pain to live independent and fulfilling lives.

Camaro began assisting Uniting’s art and drumming classes for young people in the community.

“The art classes focused on mental health, so doing zentangles. Which is a type of art that helps those in need of support with mental health. It helps people relax,” said Camaro.

She then supported the launch of a new Uniting program named AXIOS which provides young LGBTIQA+ people with the opportunity to build community connections and social circles in the area.

“The word ‘AXIOS’ is Greek for ‘worthy of’ or ‘deserving of’, so very fitting for the name of the LGBTIQA+ group,” said Camaro.

“Volunteering with the AXIOS group, I could see a huge change in the confidence of these young people.

“They would come in very shy and quiet, and then later they would come early and be very excited. They opened up so much more, it was really lovely to see.”

Camaro spoke to the importance of queer spaces for young people living rurally.

“Unfortunately, in the country, we do sometimes have the side of the community who perhaps aren’t as accepting of queer people. Which can be very challenging for younger people,” she said.

“Some families are not accepting of their child’s gender or sexuality. So, these young people can be scared to reach out.

“There were some young people who you could barely get a word out of and then after a couple of weeks they were so lively and talkative.”

For Camaro, volunteering has always been an important practice in her family.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.

These are words that have been echoed through Camaro’s family. From her Aunty to her Mum and then to her.

“Volunteering has always been in our family,” she said.

“When I was younger, I would do meals on wheels with my Mum. My Mum and

Aunty also ran CAVA, Community and Volunteer Action, another volunteering organisation down here.”

For Camaro, volunteering has changed the way she sees and interacts with her community.

“Some of the conversations that I have with the participants and hearing their life stories is so touching and eye opening.

“Volunteering is a great way to teach ourselves respect for others. To learn to be a part of the community, not just coasting by as another soul in society.”

Camaro’s volunteering role has now blossomed into employment.

Learn more about volunteering at Uniting.

*The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the people featured in this story.

From volunteer to valued employee: A second-hand success story.

Economical, stylish and eco-conscious, Sy’s op shopping passion has lasted a lifetime. Fuelled by an indifference for trends, Sy holds op shops as havens for personal style, offering freedom for self-expression away from the constraints of seasonal fashion pressures.

Unbeknownst to her, it was a Uniting Op Shop, nestled in her local community, that would fuse her background in business, proclivity for creativity and lifetime long love of op shops into a newfound purpose.

In 2020, Sy found herself relocating to Melbourne from Tasmania with only a boot load of household possessions after her daughter was awarded a six-year ballet scholarship.

“I spent a lot of time in Uniting’s Albert Park Op Shop when I first arrived in Melbourne, just collecting household essentials, pots, pans, cutlery, all the things that I didn’t pack,” says Sy.

“That’s where I met Allie, who was the manager of the shop. She suggested I work there. She would watch me shop and knew that I understood op shops. She knew that I was a lifelong op shopper.

“I thought I would enjoy working in an Op Shop, but the best way to work towards that, and to also see if I liked it, was to volunteer in one.”

Enter pandemic, stage left.

Two years went by before Sy could finally step into her role at the Albert Park Uniting Op Shop.

“I started volunteering two shifts a week and found that I really liked it,” she says.

“I have a flair for visual merchandising because I was a dance teacher for many years, so I am used to dressing up kids and putting them on stage.

“I dress up mannequins these days instead. Which is good because they don’t talk back, they just fall on me instead.”

After six months of volunteering, Sy began to work casual hours.

“I worked very hard as a casual. I ended up working around lots of different Uniting Op Shops, as well as in the warehouse, sorting,” she says.

“Then I applied for the full-time manager’s role at Albert Park.”

At Albert Park Uniting Op Shop, Sy has found a canvas for her creativity, transforming donated items into beautiful window displays, breathing new life into each piece of clothing.

“Whatever walks in the door of our shop is potentially a work of art or someone’s new favourite piece of clothing,” she says.

“It’s the reason I’ve always loved op shops because I’ve never been a person to follow trends in shops.

“An op shop is a way to put together something that feels like you.”

Volunteering with Uniting led to a new career path for Sy. It provided her the perfect platform to blend her business smarts, creative flair, and love of op shops into meaningful, fulfilling work.

“Through volunteering I achieved my goals. Because I’d moved to a new city, I’d never worked full-time for an organisation before. I’d always been self-employed,” she says.

“And so that was a big step for me, and I achieved that through starting as a volunteer.

“I was able to turn something that I loved into a job and in an organisation that supports good work.”

Learn more about volunteering at Uniting.

Game, set, print: How one match led to a lifelong career.

It was a single game of table tennis – a sport Bruce both didn’t enjoy nor claimed to be any good at – that led him to a 37-year career in the print industry, where he met his now wife and found his voice for disability activism.

At the young age of 20, during a game of table tennis, a friend recommended Bruce to apply for a job at Tadpac, a Uniting social enterprise.

Established in 1965 by a group of people living with disabilities, Tadpac is a Uniting owned printing service based in Tasmania.

Bruce, who has used a wheelchair since birth, began working in reception at Tadpac Print’s joinery office. After a number of years this office was closed as the service decided to focus on print. He was then moved to the Sales Department and finally ended his career as the Tadpac Supervisor.

Unfortunately, after almost four decades at Tadpac Bruce’s health began to decline, and he could no longer manage full-time hours around his doctors appointments.

With decades of experience and lots more to give, Bruce decided to return to Tadpac as a volunteer.

Volunteering has helped Bruce keep his mind sharp and continue to be a mentor and advocate for others also living with disabilities.

“Bruce is a strong champion for our supported employees,” says Uniting Disability Services Coordinator, Vanessa.

“He is really committed to sharing his life experiences with the other supported employees to encourage them to pursue any dream they have. To not let their disability hold them back from anything.”

For Bruce, leading by example has always been important.

“I think words aren’t always as powerful as actions,” he says.

“When the employees with disabilities see that someone like me, in a wheelchair, can do this job and hold a management role it gives them hope.

“It teaches them that if you work hard, you can achieve anything.”

When reflecting on his life, Bruce has no regrets.

“Looking back, playing table tennis was probably one of the smartest things I ever did because I got a job at Tadpac where I met my wife,” reflects Bruce.

After 38 years together, Bruce still holds his wife Jo as his greatest motivator.

“Jo gives me the strength to go on. When she was younger, she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour and given 12 months to live,” says Bruce.

“She was determined to prove everyone wrong. And she did. I take a lot of my inspiration from Jo.”

Returning to Tadpac as a volunteer has been a rewarding experience for Bruce.

“After an amazing 37-year career, I wanted to give back to Tadpac,” he says.

“I want to thank them for having faith in me and my ability.”

Learn more about volunteering at Uniting.

2024-25 Victorian State Budget response

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has welcomed funding in the 2024-25 Victorian State Budget to support the organisation’s programs and services but stressed more can always be done to assist low-income families.

“Cost of living pressures are having a devastating impact, not only on household budgets, but also on people’s mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Pike said.

“We’re pleased with the continuation of funding for the highly successful Family Preservation and Reunification Response program and the Early Help pilot program, which ensures more families have access to early support before their problems become more complex.

“Given the pressures on families, the one-off $400 cash payment for children at schools will help by offsetting some out of pocket school costs.

“As a provider of early learning services, we are concerned about delays to the free kindergarten program. There is strong evidence that investment in early education leads to significantly improved outcomes for children at school.”

Ms Pike welcomed the ongoing funding for Uniting’s crisis support accommodation for women experiencing homelessness but said there was still more work to be done to address the state’s escalating homelessness crisis.

Rising above: Athas proves his disability is not a barrier

At the heart of Gotham Doughnuts, amidst the aroma of cinnamon and caramel and the symphony of clinking utensils, there’s a young man named Athas who is taking his first step to getting a job.

His journey to finding work began like any other teenager’s – filled with apprehension, excitement, and a hint of nervousness.

But Athas faces an additional challenge due to his disability. He isn’t always comfortable making eye-contact, he sometimes finds it hard to read social cues, or understand what’s expected in a conversation.

But at Gotham Doughnuts – where he is supported, given new challenges to overcome, and where his abilities are fostered – he is growing in confidence and independence every day.

“Witnessing Athas happily participate in his work placement each week means the world to us. He loves working at Gotham Doughnuts…and has already gained so many valuable workplace skills” says his mum Narelle.

“We have seen significant growth in his confidence, independence & communication – it’s such a wonderful experience for him.”

Athas is one of Uniting’s School Leaver Employment Supports program participants. The program supports Athas and his family on the journey to fulfilling his career and life goals. The program is designed for school leavers living with a disability and assists them to grow key skills such as working in groups, navigating public transport, understanding formal documents such as passport applications, learning how to form their own opinions and ideas, and building foundational workplace skills such as food handling and customer service. Many of these important skills can be overlooked, and assumptions about the capacity of young people living with a disability can hold them back.

For people like Athas, a fulfilling career, overseas travel, romantic relationships and other significant life events should be as achievable as they are for any other young person.

Inclusive workplaces like Gotham Doughnuts provide crucial work experience for the participants, and provide an integral starting point for those very first steps on the journey to increased confidence and independence. Young people like Athas can grow beyond the barriers that many people perceive, and prove that his future is bright.

Athas’ mum Narelle knows that the staff at Gotham Doughnuts are behind him all the way, “[The manager] George loves having him there. And his co-worker Alyssa has been very encouraging and supportive. We are extremely proud of Athas & so grateful to Gotham Doughnuts & Uniting SLES for this amazing opportunity”.

Find out more about School Leaver Employment Supports.

Stitching hope for Wodonga’s rough sleepers.

Uniting’s Ruffy Swag project is a new initiative led by Uniting’s Wodonga office. The purpose of the project is to produce swags locally to distribute to those sleeping rough.

The idea for this project sprang from the critical need of warmth and bedding for those experiencing homelessness within the Goulburn Northeast region.

“Looking for community partnerships to be able to make backpacks and swags, is not solving a problem but it gives people dignity that they can have a portable bed on their back and have something warm to sleep in every night,” says Uniting’s Emergency Relief Coordinator in Wodonga, Catherine Byrne.

St Leonard’s Uniting Church Brighton have been a key reason the program has been able to get off the ground.

“The project has been challenging at times but luckily this wonderful seed funding has come from St Leonard’s Uniting Church through their Coffee Cup Challenge proceeds,” she says.

The Beechworth Uniting Church has also generously donated to the program.

“It’s amazing these funds can come in and help a region with their homelessness problem,” says Catherine.

A Ruffy Swag.

Beechworth Correctional Centre are proudly partnering with Uniting to create the swags.

The Correctional Centre has expanded their current program with industrial sewing machines to develop the backpack swags. Community volunteers are stepping in to teach the skill of drafting patterns and basic sewing skills to participants at the Correctional Centre who volunteer to support the program.

Carevan, an organisation based in Albury, who provide warm meals to those experiencing homelessness will help to

distribute the swags to those in need, as well as source further funding.

“We want to make change and help those who are sleeping rough and empower the participants at the correctional centre in a well-meaning program,” says Catherine.

“The Ruffy Swag project will assist people who find themselves homeless in Victoria and New South Wales.”

Make an impact in 2024 by becoming a foster carer.

Ever felt something tug on your heartstrings, calling you to make a difference?

Now is your opportunity to answer that call.

With more kids needing safe temporary care, there’s no better time to become a foster carer.

As growing numbers of families face challenges such as family breakdowns, substance abuse, and mental health issues, more children are finding themselves in need of safe and nurturing care.

This is why now is the right time for you to become a foster carer.

Home is where the heart is.

We all know that foster carers make a difference. By opening your door and offering a loving home to a child in need, you can make that positive difference in the life of a child.

Foster care is about much more than just about providing a place to stay.

Beyond providing all-important stability for a child, being a foster parent is an opportunity to create positive relationships and joyful experiences that help children build resilience and the life skills they need.

A decision to offer your home as a foster carer is about providing compassionate nurturing care that empowers children to thrive. While many children stay in foster care for a short time, the positive impact you can have will last a lifetime.

Time for some self-blossoming.

Foster care is the nurturing soil which allows children to grow. Every foster carer is provided with comprehensive training on parenting approaches that include first aid, behaviour management and self-care.

But the good stuff is in the self-discovery. Like the kids in your care, you will also cultivate your resilience, empathy and interpersonal skills. Interacting with children from diverse backgrounds creates an understanding of human complexities, which will assist you to expand your perspectives and hone patience, adaptability, and flexibility, all while fostering inner strength and the capacity to remain composed when navigating life’s challenges.

The village supports you, too.

When you become a foster carer with Uniting, you’ll have a specialised support team with you every step of the way.

Access to our dedicated expert care team includes having a designated Case Worker for ongoing support and practical assistance. We provide around the clock support so you’re never on your own.

Although foster care is a voluntary role, you will receive a reimbursement towards the day-to-day costs of caring for a child or young person. These payments are tax-free and made fortnightly by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH).

Where extra expenses are incurred beyond what is considered the ordinary costs of care, additional financial support may be available.

If you’re considering becoming a foster carer, you will have all the assistance you need to do so with confidence.

Foster the way you want.

One of the misconceptions about foster care is that it requires a long-term commitment.

While some placements may indeed be long-term, there are various flexible options available to suit you.

Fostering a child can be short or long term option. A range of care types are available to ensure the best fit for every carer and child. You can choose to care for a night, a weekend or longer, including months or years.

Some carers may choose to provide only one type of care, while others may provide a combination of care arrangements. We understand that you may be new to fostering, so we’ll match you to a type of care suitable to your current lifestyle and responsibilities.

It’s a ride of rich experiences.

Becoming a foster carer isn’t just a role; it’s a collection of rich experiences brimming with profound moments of connection, growth, and fulfillment.

As a foster carer, you’ll witness the transformative power of love and support while shaping the lives of vulnerable children and young people.

It’s an experience that will challenge you, yet inspire you, and ultimately leave an indelible mark on both carer and child, creating memories and bonds that last a lifetime.

Ready to embark on an epic quest in 2024?

As you contemplate your goals and aspirations for the year ahead, consider the profound impact you could make by opening your heart and home to a child in need.

The rewards of fostering are immeasurable, not only for the children you support but also for yourself.

So why wait? Start your fostering journey today with Uniting and be a part of something truly impactful.

We support foster cares across the eastern, south-eastern and western regions of Melbourne, as well as Ballarat, the Central Highlands, Wimmera and Gippsland.

Get in touch and take the first step towards making a difference in 2024.

Making the most of retirement.

Margaret and Jackie will be the first to tell you that retirement is busy and fulfilling. Residents at Gardiner Lodge in Glen Iris, they are part of a closeknit and bustling community.

Ive always liked theatre, movies, reading, meeting people my life hasnt really changed! I really make the most of retirement. says Margaret. Having lived at the village for 7 years, she felt at home as soon as she moved in. She says the residents care about each other, and check in regularly, while being aware that each resident is busy pursuing their own hobbies and interests.

Jackie now in her 80s was working up until a few years ago. Doing all the things, being with people. Im still able to make a difference, she says.

Having worked as a CEO for a wellknown notforprofit organisation, community building is in her blood, and she hasnt stopped her deep commitment to making others lives better.

Gardiner Lodge is one of 12 villages owned and managed by Uniting. With a focus on independence and flexibility, Uniting retirement villages are designed to encourage residents to continue to live life on their own terms.

Jackie likes that everyone in the Gardiner Lodge community has a say, and can be involved. She believes the strength of the community is its collaboration its a shared belief that society is better if we do it together, she says.

Both women also appreciate that they share the values of the people in the neighbourhood. Its a friendly, welcoming community that celebrates marriage equality, and diversity. It creates cohesion amongst the residents, and allows a dynamic and progressive environment.

Jackie says, We believe its better for two people to connect, no matter what their gender thats much better than two people being isolated and lonely”.

For Margaret, staying in the area of Melbourne she has always called home is important. After she moved from her family home in Camberwell into a small flat, she felt upheaved. But since moving to Gardiner Lodge she has appreciated that the gardens and maintenance are taken care of, and likes knowing that the people in her community care about each other. And she hasnt had to change her life dramatically.

Ive been in the same book club for over 50 years, she says, there are 8 of us from the original group. Weve grown up together, raised families. And we still meet every month and actually talk about the book! she laughs.

Asked what makes the village so special, Margaret says Kindness. Being aware of peoples needs. Thats all it takes”.

Learn more about Uniting’s independent living retirement villages.

Learn more about Gardiner Lodge, Glen Iris.

Uniting program helps young people living with disabilities ace their 2024 Australian Open jobs.

Aiden, Leila, Nathan and Ramadan from Uniting Vic.Tas’ School Leaver Employment Support (SLES) program have had a fun fortnight working retail and hospitality jobs at 2024 Australian Open in Melbourne.

With support from Tennis Australia and Dylan Alcott’s the Field, which connects people with disabilities with organisations looking to hire, the teenagers all gained real-life customer service skills and experience during Australia’s biggest sporting tournament.

The SLES program provides young people living with disabilities with help and support on their pathway to employment including creating action plans for training, work and life skills, to prepare them for the workforce, helping them feel confident and positive about their future.

Aiden, Leila, Nathan and Ramadan were supported to write their job application and to prepare for their interviews.

Speaking after his first shift, Ramadan said: “I feel so good about working in the retail space. It’s really busy and my shift goes quickly, but I’m enjoying learning to use Point of Sale.”

Leila was also excited about her first taste of the workforce: “I was excited and nervous, but on that first day, I was really looking forward to my first real (work) shift.”

Uniting Vic.Tas Acting CEO Amy Padgham said it was exciting to see the young people thrive in their jobs.

“We know how important it is for young people living with a disability to not only find a job, but to keep that job,” Ms Padgham said.

“As well as providing a source of income, a job boosts a young person’s confidence and self-pride as well their independence.

“Only 53 per cent of people living with a disability in Australia are in the workforce compared to 84 per cent of people without a disability.

“Platforms such as the Field and opportunities like this which Tennis Australia are providing these young people help break down the barriers stopping people with disabilities from gaining and retaining meaningful employment.”

Co-founder of the Field, which is Australia’s first disability-driven job search platform and multiple Australian Grand Slam tennis champion, Dylan Alcott, said initiatives like this are critical for improving outcomes with people living with a disability.

Mr Alcott has simple words of advice for employers looking for employees and wanting to make a difference.

“Be inquisitive and lift your expectation of what you think candidates with a disability can do, because I promise you, it’s always more than you think,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ramadan has enjoyed his time in the retail space so much, he’s hoping to return in a similar role with the AO retail team next year.

Learn more about School Leaver Employment Support (SLES).

Generosity funds house for women and children escaping family violence.

A generous Melbourne couple and supportive local businesses have helped create a home for women and children escaping family violence in the Northcote area.

The couple, who do not wish to be identified, have previously donated the use of a two-bedroom house in Abbotsford. They decided to purchase a three-bedroom home in Northcote because they felt it was a better option for women with children.

“It’s an amazing contribution that gives women and children escaping family violence a real opportunity to leave dangerous homes and start afresh,” said Uniting Vic.Tas Senior Manager Housing Services, Louise Daniel.

The couple, who wish to be known as K and B, gave Uniting the use of the first house eighteen months ago in response to media articles highlighting the number of Australian women killed or impacted by violent partners every year.

“We both looked at each other and it was like an epiphany. We both thought about our house In Abbotsford and thought we can do something about this,” B said.

“We are in the position where we can help,” added K.

“If anyone else can do it, I would encourage them to, it’s a really nice feeling knowing you can help,” she said.

“If you’re a boomer and sick of the bad rap we get on housing, here’s a chance to change that perception and do something that is life changing for someone.” K added.

B said the fact Uniting has its own maintenance team and could manage the properties well was an incentive.

“We are forgoing interest paid or received on each house which is around $50,000 per year but we retain ownership of the houses. The way Uniting set up the contracts with us makes it easy. We don’t have to get involved in any direct tenancy management, as Uniting manages any questions or issues raised by the person renting the property.

Uniting pays peppercorn rent for the houses and manage the tenancies. The couple pay rates and some of the outgoings as a donation.

A portion of the minimal rent paid to Uniting by renters is retained as brokerage so when the women are ready to leave, they have some money to pay bond and set themselves up in a more permanent home.

Local business Kreative Design and Interiors furnished and decorated the entire house and Koala Furniture, a Uniting corporate partner provided beds.

Kreative’s director Felicity used furniture and materials from styling houses to furnish the home, including bedding which has only ever been used for display.

Learn more about our Homelessness and Crisis Support services.

If you are interested in donating the use of a property, contact us at [email protected] and include ‘attention Louise Daniel’ in the subject line, or free call 1800 329 133.

Young Victorians are getting help to reach their career goals.

Ask any school leaver today how they feel about finishing school and taking the next big step into the world, and many will say ‘excited’, ‘nervous’, or ‘uncertain’. Leaving school and thinking about university or work can be daunting.

Now imagine how a school leaver living with a disability might feel.

According to a 2019 study1, 64% of young people with a disability felt they faced barriers to finding work – compared with 48% of young people without a disability.

Without targeted support, many of these young people disengage with school, further study, or work experience and eventually lose the confidence to participate in the activities they once enjoyed.

For people like Zoe, having the support of Uniting Vic.Tas Pathways 2 Employment means she can feel positive about the future, and sees some of those barriers fall away.

“I’m happy that I have the opportunity to do work experience at a café doing customer service. I love learning new skills,” she says.
Her friend and Pathways 2 Employment participant Wolfie feels the same.

He works at a local op shop, and at a café. He juggles his responsibilities and enjoys staying active.

“I’ve learned a lot about work safety and my rights in the workplace.

I’ve really enjoyed Pathways 2 Employment.

Uniting’s program – also known as School Leaver Employment Supports or SLES – helps young people build skills, confidence, and discover their strengths and aspirations in a supportive group environment.

According to Uniting Employment Coach Jessica Clenci, the participants love the activities, industry visits, and taking part in community events such as hosting a Bunning’s barbeque.

“Going out and practicing skills they’ve learned in the training room, going out and meeting people in the community – they love that experience,” she says.

Jessica loves watching the participants planning and taking part in social days that the group decides on together as a team.

“They’re the ones organising and planning it – they call up the businesses, they make the bookings, they make the decisions, it’s really important team-building for them.”

 The skills the Pathways 2 Employment participants learn help them feel empowered.

Not only do they learn about money, taxes, communicating in the workplace, how to use public transport and learners permit theory, but they grow together and make decisions about their own lives based on their own aspirations.

Janet Curtain, an Employment Coach working with Pathways 2 Employment participants loves watching the young people grow and develop independence.

“They come in all nervous into the start of the program, thinking it’s all scary…to being so social, and coming out of their shell. It’s amazing to see them develop belief in themselves,” Janet says.

Janet knows she’s done her job when the participants can confidently fill out their own forms, do life admin, choose an interview outfit, make a barista-grade coffee or a sandwich and sell it to a member of the public – and she loves seeing them eventually settle into a job.

Janet keeps in touch with the participants and their parents, and loves hearing about how they’re progressing after graduation.

Archer is another Pathways 2 Employment participant, a friend of Zoe and Wolfie, and is in his second year of the program.

“I like working on my goals, and working in a team. I like learning about money and pay”, he says.

Archer has enjoyed planning and recording a radio show, and visiting Bunnings to take part in team-building projects.

These invaluable experiences are increasing Archer’s confidence and providing a range of skills that he will eventually take into the workplace and draw on as he progresses in his career.

Pathways 2 Employment helps people like Archer, Zoe and Wolfie in 12 locations across Melbourne.

Navigating Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Overcoming Bias for a More Inclusive Environment

Neurodiversity refers to the diverse range of neurological differences that exist among individuals, including conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or dyspraxia.

While the concept of neurodiversity was introduced to reinforce the idea that neurological differences are natural variations of the human brain, individuals who are neurodiverse often face unique challenges in the workplace.

In this article, we will explore some of the common challenges that neurodiverse individuals encounter and discuss strategies to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

1. Misunderstanding and Stigma

One of the primary challenges neurodiverse individuals face is the lack of understanding and the perpetuation of stigmas surrounding their condition. Neurodivergent individuals may exhibit behaviors or communication styles that differ from the neurotypical majority, leading to misconceptions and biases.

Colleagues and supervisors may struggle to comprehend the strengths and unique perspectives that neurodiverse individuals bring to the table, and expect the pace of their work to meet normative stereotypes.

To address this challenge, organisations should prioritise education and awareness programs.

Directives that promote understanding and celebrate neurodiversity spearheaded by leadership of an organisation can help create a more inclusive workplace culture.

2. Communication and Social Interactions

Social interactions and communication can be particularly challenging for neurodiverse individuals. Difficulty in interpreting non-verbal cues, maintaining eye contact, or navigating ‘office politics’ may lead to misunderstandings and isolation. The traditional emphasis on social or networking skills in the workplace may unintentionally disadvantage neurodivergent employees.

Employers can foster inclusivity by implementing clear communication guidelines and providing alternative communication channels. Encouraging collaboration in different forms – such as chat, digital whiteboarding or mind-mapping – and understanding different communication styles can help bridge the gap between neurodivergent individuals and their colleagues.

3. Sensory Sensitivities

Many neurodiverse individuals experience sensory sensitivities that can be triggered by aspects of the workplace environment, such as bright lighting, too much talking, or crowded spaces. These sensitivities can lead to discomfort, stress, and decreased productivity.

Creating a sensory-friendly workplace involves making simple adjustments, such as providing quiet spaces, adjustable lighting, or noise-cancelling headphones. Allowing employees to work shorter or more flexible hours also accommodates for differing needs and routines.

4. Executive Functioning Challenges

Individuals with neurodiverse conditions often face challenges related to executive functions, such as organisation, time management, and task prioritisation. Meeting deadlines, adhering to schedules, and multitasking may present difficulties for some individuals.

Implementing flexible work arrangements, offering organisational tools, and providing clear expectations with the broader team can help neurodiverse employees navigate executive functioning challenges more effectively. Additionally, fostering a supportive work culture that has an awareness of differing needs can create a more inclusive environment.

5. Limited Access to Opportunities

Neurodiverse individuals may encounter barriers when seeking employment or career advancement. Biases in recruitment processes, limited awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace, and a lack of awareness during interviews can contribute to underrepresentation.

Organisations committed to diversity and inclusion should actively seek to eliminate biases in the recruitment and promotion process. Creating mentorship programs and providing professional development opportunities can also contribute to a more equitable distribution of opportunities for neurodivergent individuals.

Promoting neurodiversity in the workplace is not just good for individuals – it is also essential for fostering creativity, innovation, and a truly inclusive organisational culture.

By addressing the challenges faced by neurodiverse individuals head-on, organisations can create environments that celebrate differences and empower all employees to thrive. Through education, awareness, and thoughtful accommodations, we can build workplaces that embrace all working styles and harness the unique strengths of every individual.

It’s not just good for business, it’s better for the community and society.

Learn more about Uniting’s Disability Employment Services.

Uniting Op Shops – where young people thrive.

Uniting Op Shops across Melbourne are celebrating community collaboration and inclusivity, encouraging everyone to discover their unique style, personality and self-expression.

Working with the Employment Services team, Uniting Op Shops are helping young people living with a disability make their way in the world.

Nestled in the heart of communities such as Preston, Yarraville and Glenroy, Uniting Op Shops have long been known for their haven of creativity, community, and diversity. However, what sets them apart from other second-hand stores is their commitment to providing valuable work opportunities for young people living with disabilities via Uniting’s School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) program.

Uniting Op Shops have become thriving spaces where unique abilities and talents converge to create an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. The SLES participants – each bringing their own strengths to the table – are not only gaining essential skills and confidence but also actively contributing to the shop’s success.

The newly opened Brunswick Op Shop and warehouse on Victoria Street has generated excitement in the area, with a huge Op Shop and warehouse becoming a major hub for collecting and distributing goods. The large space houses kids, women’s and men’s clothing, a huge range of books, homewares, as well as vinyl records and hard to find retro and vintage items. The new space has also meant they’ve needed more hands on deck.

Jacob Miller – Uniting Op Shops Senior Manager says “We are delighted to be able to support the work of our colleagues running the School Leaver Employment program, and have these wonderful young people as part of our team. Our Op Shop Managers love being able to support them on their journey.”

Wolfie – one of the young people gaining confidence through work experience – enjoys learning how to count and handle money, and is beginning to gain familiarity with the workplace. He also likes making customers laugh with his jokes.

“It’s amazing to see [the SLES participants] develop a belief in themselves”, says Janet, one of the employment coaches supporting the young people. “They come in all nervous at the start…and then you see them coming out of their shell”. This is one of the most important aspects of the program – developing independence and confidence, Janet says.

Many of the young people live with a hidden disability, and can find everyday routines and interactions overwhelming. Navigating public transport, interacting with the community, understanding how to fill out forms and paperwork – many of these activities are taken for granted by people not living with a disability. The program helps young people to leave the familiarity of high school and supports them to develop essential skills that will set them up for life.

The community’s response to the Uniting Op Shop’s initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.

Visitors not only appreciate the vibrant atmosphere, but also applaud the young people in creating a space that champions diversity, inclusion and encourages self-expression.

The success of Uniting Op Shops is a leading example of the potential of inclusive employment programs. It highlights the importance of recognising and harnessing the unique talents of every individual, regardless of their abilities.

With understanding and a compassionate approach to young people living with different abilities, barriers to their career aspirations fall away and their goals for the future are brought that much closer.

Learn more about Uniting’s Disability Employment Services.

 

Open your heart to fostering.

Emily initially had her reservations about becoming a foster carer. As a young, single woman living in rural Victoria, she wondered if she fit the bill.

The foster carers she’d seen growing up were typically older couples, who already had children of their own. As the proud aunty to many nieces and nephews, Emily had some parenting experience but feared this wouldn’t be enough to care for a child full-time.

“I was quite worried about being too young when I first became a foster carer,” said Emily.

“I was 27 and single and I haven’t got any biological children. I wasn’t sure how this would come across and whether I was capable.”

It’s now been a year into Emily’s foster care journey and she’s grateful she trusted her gut and jumped in with both feet.

The joy and purpose fostering has brought her, far outweighs any of the challenges she has faced.

“It just means now I have a long journey of fostering ahead of me,” she said.

From respite to full-time care

Emily began fostering as a respite carer. Her role was to care for children in the short-term, for a few hours, days, or over the weekend.

Respite care allows full-time foster carers to take a break. It is mostly planned in advance but sometimes can be required in emergency situations or at short notice.

One of Emily’s respite foster children needed a full-time carer. With Uniting’s support, Emily knew she was ready.

“Uniting has supported me at every step of my foster care experience,” she said.

“Right from beginning, from training and every way through. Every team member is brilliant.”

Emily also stressed that despite being a young person with a single income, expenses haven’t been an issue.

“Some people worry about the money side of foster caring and being able to financially provide for children,” she said.

“But I always know if there is a big expenditure or something extra, I can contact Uniting.”

Emily shared that in her experience children don’t need a lot of ‘stuff’.

“As long as they have somewhere to sleep, food to eat, clothing to wear and someone to love them. If you can provide that then you’re two thirds of the way there,” she said.

Love is at the centre of everything

For those at the beginning of their foster care journey, the idea of disciplining a child that is not your own can be a daunting concept.

Emily explains that when disciplining a foster child, it’s very important to consider the challenges and traumas they may have faced in their lives and how these could have contributed to their behaviours.

“In foster care, we discipline differently. We connect rather than correct. We help the children identify who they are and why they are having these behaviours,” she said.

“Straight up discipline isn’t going to work with these kids and it’s not what they deserve. If you can approach them with a whole lot of love and acceptance, then you can do it.”

Fostering futures

When asked if Emily would encourage others to become foster carers, she answered with an overwhelming yes.

“I would encourage everybody to look into foster care and if you think it’s too hard or too much trouble, think about how hard it is for the kids,” she said.

“We go into this voluntarily, they don’t. So, if it’s hard for us, imagine how hard it is for them.”

Emily explains that you have a lot of flexibility as a foster carer. You get to decide when, how and for how long you foster.

“Just give it a go. You don’t have to commit for 40 years, you can commit for one year or even six months,” she said.

“You don’t know how good it is until you do it. I’m not going to lie, it can be very hard but it’s so worth it. I have grown immensely since becoming a foster carer.

Become a foster carer with Uniting.

*This is a true story about real people. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the people featured.