With Open Arms

Page 1

Celebrating Inclusive Communities | A collection of postcard stories from Uniting Ability Links

Celebrating Inclusive Communities — A collection of postcard stories from Uniting Ability Links

The Ability Links program works with people with a disability, their families and carers to bring true inclusion. Now in its third year, Uniting Ability Links makes incredible stories everyday as our linkers use their connections, inventiveness and knowledge to bring choice and new opportunities to the communities we work with. Our program is disrupting the old story of acceptance or tolerance of people with a disability to generate a new story. This new story is one where inclusion is nothing unusual but simply the norm.

isbn 978-1-920839-39-0 Concept, strategy, design and production: Only Human Communication www.onlyhuman.com.au Moya Sayer-Jones (Lead); Clive Jones (Design); Alinta Koh Photography: Š Dean Golja Cartoon drawings: Š Tennyson Nobel Printed in Australia by The Flagstaff Group


| Welcome |


t is with great privilege that I introduce this collection of Uniting Ability Links stories. They have been written or told to us by the people, Linkers, organisations and communities that we work with. They are in their own words. Ability Links NSW was set up in July 2014 to bring about greater inclusion and opportunity for everyone in the community. Uniting Ability Links does this great work across Metro North Sydney and Southern NSW. Eighteen months into the program, we had seen and heard so many incredible stories that we knew we needed to share them. These stories are touching, very human and often fun. They capture the power of social inclusion, and the possibilities and joy it creates. Our Linkers are a positive and creative team of problem solvers, coaches, activists and connectors. They hear quiet, secret hopes and then leap to work connecting ideas and people. They will always say ‘It’s not us. It’s them! They’re amazing.’ They say that change happens through the will, courage

and hopefulness of the people they work with. In doing this they tap into Uniting’s vision which is for a world that’s inclusive, just and connected. Our Linkers and all of our employees and volunteers do this by inspiring people, enlivening communities and confronting injustice. Every human being deserves to reach their true potential and live valued lives where, and how, they choose. It’s true the first step is often the hardest and in our experience, it’s where support and encouragement is needed most. Too often we hear about the ‘disability’ however as you read through these pages you will hear about ‘abilities’ and be amazed at what is possible when the door is opened to opportunities. Our hope is that after reading these stories, more doors will be opened. Deirdre Moore Uniting Ability Links Program Manager



open my emails and cannot believe that a new organisation, Ability Links, has asked me to be Master of Ceremonies for their Hunter Region Launch. I smile and although quite nervous about this role, I agree. I prepare my braille notes. I continue to be involved as an Ambassador and advisor. Ability Links slices through the red tape of bureaucracy, and believes that people have the right to be involved in their community. Each person, each story shared is a wonderful example of ‘choice’ and ‘control’. A new way of thinking, where individuals find their voice and can have their say. These stories reflect the importance of belonging and of respect. They made me laugh and made me cry. A collection of experiences that will empower others to think about their own personal opportunities and choices in life.

Nicholas Gleeson


| Foreword |


s the Minister for Disability Services and Minister for Multiculturalism, I appreciate the importance of embracing the achievements of individuals and communities as much as anyone. I hope you will find in this book a celebration of the ability of people and communities to overcome barriers in everyday life, and foster values of inclusion and social diversity.

and employment, and improve their selfesteem and wellbeing. I would like to congratulate Uniting for developing this book and encourage you, the reader, to engage with the stories contained within and reflect upon the possibilities of what can be achieved when individuals and communities come together and dream big!

With Open Arms demonstrates Uniting’s amazing achievements under the Ability Links program, proudly funded by the NSW Government. The success of the program is built on a strong partnership between the government and organisations such as Uniting, and on the incredible work and dedication of the Linkers themselves. Ability Links has supported people to increase their engagement with services, improve their connection with communities, access training

John Ajaka mlc Minister for Disability Services and Minister for Multiculturalism



I am a limited edition. 9

“When I got home from the hospital I know my head is now not normal. I can’t see out the left side. Every morning I take the thread and the needle. Every day I do the same, put the thread in. The first time I can put in 15 minute. After only one minute I can do it now.”


Finding the thread. Lilan is a beautiful example of lifelong learning. She’s an absolutely amazing woman.

I met her in 2012 after she had had a stroke. My job with Social Support Services began with visiting her and exploring community activities together such as dancing, library service, social group, and temple program etc. But they were not what she wanted. She had lots of goals and dreams and she wanted to make them happen.

talking and conversations. She’s great with colour and design and another wish of hers was to be able to do her daughter’s makeup on her wedding day. When she told us that, we saw her face light up. Big smile. Her first step was a beauty diploma with a teacher who speaks her language, Vietnamese. It went for a year and suddenly, she was so busy I could hardly catch up with her. She met new friends and was just delighted.

I thought, ‘Maybe Ability Links can help?’ We met with Anna, a Linker, and since then we have all been a team to get Lilan back into work and out amongst people.

Lilan is a very independent woman but after the stroke, she was frustrated – all that energy but nowhere to use it. Now she’s sewing again, her life is in control again. This is Lilan: never give up. She’s very inspirational.

Before she got sick, Lilan had a sewing business and she was so good that she had a contract with Lisa Ho. Afterwards, she was terribly missing greeting customers, the

> This story was told by Mei (Social Inclusion Coordinator, City of Parramatta), along with Lilan and her Linker, Anna.


Presenting… Via Romana the Conqueror – a novel of epic proportions, 400 pages of Roman historical fiction brought to life with 40 hand drawn illustrations. (Now available on Amazon.) The journey to publication was an epic too. Mitchell had written a draft of his novel while still in his senior years at school but he didn’t know how to take it to publication. He asked Beck, his Linker, to help. It was unchartered territory for both of them – finding funding for an editor, learning about design, print and e‑publishing. There were setbacks and challenges but many others joined them to make it happen. When Mitchell held the book in his hands at the launch and saw it published on Amazon, he had finally reached his goal.


“Beck, my Linker, just sort of popped up. We found an editor who helped me completely reconstruct the book. That was so valuable. I was sitting at home and I suddenly realised what was wrong with my story as it was: so I scrapped all that and filled it with new, better ideas. I’ve got plenty of other books already written down. Now I’m just working on the one I want to publish next.” – Mitchell (author extraordinaire) “He’s amazing. I’m just astonished by him. He’s done what most of us can’t do in a lifetime. He’s got so many people who are proud of him but the best thing is, he’s proud of himself.” – Beck (Ability Linker extraordinaire)


change starts here


Once upon a time… Billy’s Mum, Sally, would spend every Saturday watching her son sitting on the sidelines while his brothers and his father played Rugby League at the local club. Billy wanted to be out there too but he couldn’t. A brain injury was getting in his way. And a few rules too. It broke Sally’s heart watching him: seeing him not able to be part of the action. She tried to think of a way to get Billy out there with his brothers. Maybe he could be a message runner? Or help out at training? But the answer was NO. Billy was only 9 and the rules said that he’d have to be at least 14 to do that. ‘Wait another five years to play with his brothers?’ she thought. ‘No way!’

So then she got together with one of our Linkers and the local junior club. Together they wrote a very important letter to the Junior Rugby League Association asking if they could create a special role for Billy. The association read the letter, had a think about how to make it happen and then decided, ‘Absolutely!’ These days, Billy is on the field too. His job is to run the ball tee out for his brother’s under 13s team. He feels excited, useful and a part of the action. And now Sally can watch ALL her boys out there, playing together. A rule is a rule is a rule…. until it’s not! 15

presenting: The Pakistani Ladies Group


e organise social events just for women and children where we all get together and dance and sing and let our hair down. I started the Pakistani Ladies Group because of the isolation these women were feeling. The problem is they are mainly just sitting, stuck at home. Most of the ladies were working as skilled professionals before they came to Australia. They have the skills, they have the education but they do not have the local experience or connections here to get good work. I asked the women to tell me what their expertise is. We planned for them to get local experience with the group and it worked. Now we have women building databases, writing reports; we have a food handling team, childminders, a creative team. It’s been amazing but there was still something missing for us. The work we were doing didn’t count for an employment


reference because we were not a registered organisation. Through Ability Links, I got in touch with Amie at MECA (Mount Druitt Ethnic Community Agency) and she was excited about what the women were achieving. She offered meeting rooms, training opportunities and computer access. But most importantly, MECA offered to become an associate of the Pakistani Ladies Group, recognise the work and give our women a professional reference. After that, a lot of women were able to get jobs. The motivation levels in these ladies is skyrocketing. We are now starting two more groups: one in Penrith and one in Auburn. We’re guiding a local Bengali community too. The circle of mutual support has just grown wider and wider. > This story is told by Shandana, the group founder. She is also one of our Linkers.






ughly 6500 languages in the wo e are ro r rld. e h T

m e to th f say o welcome in all



She grew and grew and grew I first met Allie with her caseworker. Allie wanted to make new friends but she was very shy – her Asperger’s and anxiety didn’t help either. She was interested in dance but felt she could never do it.

to go outside three times. She shed some tears and I showed her some breathing techniques and then she’d courageously try again. Each time I watched her go back inside, I was amazed.

First up, I found dance classes for her and I went with her until she was comfortable enough in the class that she felt ready to go it alone.

By the end of that night, she’d met a couple of other people. They invited her to be their friend and planned to go out again. It was amazing to watch the change in her. She grew and grew that night – she had achieved something she had never thought possible.

Next, she was ready to dance into the big world. I found an all-inclusive, all ability nightlife event in our area and Allie was happy to give it a try. It wasn’t easy for her. She was so nervous the first time that she had

> This story is told by one of our Linkers.



arg had an accident that dramatically affected her movement and verbal communication. After months of hard work in rehab she wanted to finish projects she had started before the accident. One was a sewing project – an intricate handmade quilt. Her Linker set her up with a sewing group at the local community centre.

She brought along some photos to show us and we could see what a beautiful sewer she’d been before her accident.

have knitted. We must have been connecting with Marg because she was understanding what we were saying. She managed to say ‘Yes’ to tea.

That first day she only managed about five stitches because she was right handed and her right arm was not working. It was a real strain for her.

Marg was just like everybody else, it was no different. We just made space for her wheelchair that’s all. She was in the company of sewers and we were so happy to have her.

We just did what we would always do in the group. We sit around and sew and have cuppas and talk about all sorts of things. Normally we’re making rugs or putting together squares that some of the older members


Surely any group would do the same, wouldn’t they? > Told by Nancy from the sewing group.

She’s on her way


ophie’s mum Susan tells the story:

We came to Ability Links almost by accident. I was searching online for help with getting Sophie in to employment. Eventually, through a number of frustrating searches, I found out about the Ability Links program. Our first meeting with Helen was a breakthrough. She talked to Sophie about what she’d like to do, and gave us a lot of useful tips about volunteering and other community activities as pathways to employment. Helen got in contact with the Neighbour­ hood Centre and the PCYC. The Centre had never had anyone volunteer who was as young as Sophie, or anyone with a disability so they just weren’t sure how they could use her. I said, ‘I’m sure sometimes you have to do mail outs, sending out newsletters? Sophie would be perfect for that job.’


The next week they rang up and said, ‘We’ve got a newsletter going out, can Sophie come and help us?’ After that, Sophie was there every Wednesday helping on reception and then she started doing a full day at the PCYC too. She hadn’t worked anywhere before so it was great experience to build her confidence and skills. Now she has a paid job at the Nous Group in the city. I think in the old sort of parlance we used to call Sophie the ‘Girl Friday’. She gets to work herself on public transport and she loves it. One of the best things for me has been watching Sophie have the confidence to navigate things like setting a break time that works for her, and figuring out things like if she changes trains at Central station she’s got a better chance of getting a seat. It’s been a brilliant leap for our family.


Driving to possibilities Most of us can remember the thrill and freedom of getting our driver’s licence. What we often forget though is that we had to get a Learners Permit first. That means learning lots of rules and skills. Over the past two years, Ability Links, TAFE NSW and the Mountains Youth Service Team have collaborated on a


training program for people with disability. We wanted to increase people’s knowledge and understanding of the road rules in NSW and equip them to confidently gain their Learner’s permit and become knowledgeable, safer drivers. A Learners Permit is an achievement in itself, an essential part of the process for obtaining a licence. Once we get that licence we’re on the way to possibilities, independence, paid employment and fun with others. The courses have been a great success and now Ability Links has been able to establish a

link between the Head Teacher Foundation Studies and NSW Fair Trading to extend the training to purchasing and owning a car. These sessions for Language, Literacy and Numeracy students, and people from CALD backgrounds will increase their capacity to navigate car purchasing and access education. Yay! We’re putting on our indicators, checking our rear vision and pulling out of the curb towards more and better opportunities. > This is a story from one of our Linkers.


Pete is now a photographer. He tells the story‌


went to a 12 month course on the NDIS and they were saying, ‘Pete, what do you want to do with your life? What do you want to do but feel you can’t?’

Control Club, every mound of dirt I saw was like, ‘Hah! That could be a jump or a track.’ Now I’m probably seeing the photographic potential of that dirt instead!

I knew I wanted something to get me off the Xbox and out of the house. I’d been mucking around with film cameras for most of my teenage life and I just took photos of anything and everything. Capturing the moment was sort of, I don’t know, awesome.

My first photography job was for a music and food festival and now I’m ready to connect with businesses and NGOs in this area. I’m turning ‘mucking about with cameras’ into a business.

So I told NDIS I wanted to learn more about photography and they gave me Troy’s number from Ability Links. Troy gave me suggestions to get started and helped me get funding for a new camera I could use easily.

Pete had a small pocket camera and limited use of his right hand. That made it difficult to take photos because all cameras have a right hand shutter button. With the funding we were able to get him a camera with a remote shutter release which is much easier for him to use. It must have worked a treat because Pete’s photos are awesome now! — Troy, the Linker

Once I got the digital camera I started taking photography more seriously. Then I got my second digital camera which was drop proof, waterproof, all sorts of proof. Photography has changed the way I look at things. For example, when I started at the Radio



What makes your garden grow? It was a participant in our Ability Links program who came up with the idea of a community garden. She could see the possibility of an organic, self-sufficient garden in this space at the PCYC. It was amazing how it all came together. So many people from so many different groups doing whatever it took to make it happen. And doing it together. Now the community around the garden is growing, just like our plants. That’s why we call it LithGrow. Here’s who got their hands dirty: Lithgrow Community Garden Supporters: PCYC; Lithgow Neighbourhood and Information Centre; Bunnings Lithgow; Westfund; Lithgow Men’s Shed; Lithgow City Council; Lithgow Landscape and Produce Supplies; Radio 90-2LT; M I Concreting; Lithgow Lions Club; Lithgow High School, students; SSI; Uniting. Garden committee (Ability Links participants and Linkers): Margaret Hart; Kara Douglass; Jason Grey; Nyssa Hart; Rose Douglass; Veronica Doyle; Christine Harwick; Leanne Walding; Cherie Brandon. > This is a story from one of our Linkers.


When you run out of red, use blue. — Pablo Picasso.


AMMY started with us when she was still at school and now she has just turned 20. When she first came, the kids were wary of her – oh my goodness, almost fearful. She was different: she was loud, she had a cane, she couldn’t see too well. I think by week two, Sammy was just part of it. We have volunteers of all ages and backgrounds here. I think that’s what I love the most, seeing the kids and volunteers all together.


if anyone dares try to do it, they’re in trouble. Not long ago, she was ill and on her get well card, I wrote just a funny little message – ‘We miss you doing the washing up, we’re not as good at it as you.’ When she got out of hospital she rang me and said, ‘I’m going to come back for a little bit, I won’t stay all day but I’ll just come long enough to do the washing up.’ And despite my protests, she did!

We laugh a lot because Sammy loves the noise of the children and I love the quiet. One day, she told me that the noise is so wonderful for her because she doesn’t see – I’d never really thought about that.

When her Linker first asked us about Sammy volunteering, it just seemed obvious that she should come. I don’t know if there was a reason to do it, but there was no reason not to do it. She’s come such a long way, we’ve all come such a long way…

She embraces everything new and takes ownership completely. Like with the washing up. She loves the washing up and


The Gate There was an old lady called Mrs B who lived all alone in a little house with a yellow back door. This back door led to a gate and this gate led Mrs B to the world. But one day, Mrs B couldn’t open the gate. It was broken. Mrs B was trapped by a hinge! Sigh. Help! I’m stuck here! A local occupational therapist at Community Health saw Mrs B’s new isolation and contacted our Linker. ‘We need a fast fix,’ she said. ‘Is there a way to find someone in the community to help quickly?’ Our Linker rang the Community Work Shed and what do you know? That very day, someone dropped by and fixed Mrs B’s gate. Just like that, Mrs B was free in the world again. Yay! Here I come!




nce upon a time there was a woman named Joy who lived in Africa with her children. She endured many difficult experiences and suffered much. When she came to Australia as a refugee, she realised life could be different. When I started meeting with Joy, she told me that she had always been passionate about the arts. As a younger person in Africa, Joy would have dreams about being an actress but then she would wake up again. And she’d remember it wasn’t real. I was very touched by that. Together we explored ways Joy could follow those old dreams here in Australia. It wasn’t easy. Unfortunately, all the drama

classes we found were either too far away or way out of Joy’s budget. For a long time we had no luck but that didn’t stop us trying. One day I met Dennis Sykes who runs Actors Co at the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music. I told him all about Joy and he was intrigued and agreed to meet her. Joy told Dennis: I don’t have any experience, but I know I have it inside me and I can do it. Dennis said: That’s all you need. We’ll do it! Dennis made the impossible, possible. He negotiated a price that Joy could afford and now they are working on her voice, stage presence, character and emotion. Joy is over the moon and is dreaming again. Now her dreams don’t stop when she wakes up. > This story was told by Joy’s Linker.


Sue runs an all-inclusive sewing group in Lithgow…

My grandson has autism and he came to live with me in Lithgow when he was two. I really struggled to find any local support or services for us so I started a Facebook page where people with the same problem could connect. That Facebook group then turned into a face-to-face support group. When people in the group started asking for more ways to socialise and learn new skills, my idea of giving sewing classes was a natural. My parents owned the local haberdashery in Lithgow for 25 years and I have a long history in sewing too. I had a backlog of fabric we could use in the classes – and as you can imagine, even more from a mother who’d run a fabric shop!


But we had a problem. We wanted everyone to be able to come whether they owned a sewing machine or not. I met Helen from Ability Links and she organised three new sewing machines for us. No one needs to be left out now. We have one lady for example who has her own machine but because she uses a walker, she would never be able to transport it to and fro. I run the class every second Thursday and my mum comes along too. We have so much fun and new people are joining all the time. One lady had an old sewing machine that she wasn’t using. She came in to donate it but when she saw what we were doing she said, ‘I want to come too’ and she joined the class instead!


Our fabulous Linkers Our Linkers are a uniquely gifted group of people committed to creating opportunities for inclusion and increasing diversity in our community. Combining flexibility, tenacity, tact and passion, they work with people and communities to generate change.



Uniting Ability Links

Our regional coverage

Our reach

Goulburn •

Working with people aged under 9: 0.6% 9-15: 11.5% 17-24: 18.3% 25-34: 16.5% 35-44: 17.4% 45-55: 21.4% 56-64: 13.7% 65+: 0.8%



• Sydney • Wollongong

• Bega

The people we have worked with are from 41 different countries and over 30 different cultures


It is now estimated that over people are being supported by Ability Links NSW each year across the state.


• Newcastle

Queanbeyan •


Ability Links NSW

Lithgow • Penrith •

(including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders)

Astonishing social and economic benefits — a return of

$3 for every $1 invested.

How Uniting Ability Links spreads the word‌ Community events Businesses 329 Meeting with businesses of all sizes to bring awareness of better practice and small, significant change

Community events

We go to where the people are!

Disability Service

We partner with services to get more done

That’s a total of 1651 419

Expos 748 Sharing the program and the work of our linkers at career expos etc

Interagency meetings


Mainstream Service Provider


Meeting with external organisation


Many hands (and brains) make light work Advocacy for service and changing to more inclusive practice We explain the program and work together on community events


community events initiated and run by

30 21/2

of our Linkers over years

Other 663 Bringing organisations like sport or dance into an inclusive mindset

Outreach 191 Out and about in the community to inform and persuade, e.g. info tables at railway stations

Grand Total

THAT’S getting around!



Back in the saddle again Tracy loved a good chat and spending time with people but when I met her for the first time at a coffee shop, she was short of both. As a single Mum, she had been dedicated to her children and now that they didn’t need her so much, she was restless. It was time to be useful and connected in the community again. She didn’t have many ideas about where to start but her love and knowledge of horses was a good clue. We linked her to volunteering with the local Horse Riding School for the Disabled which was perfect.

Tracy’s own working career had been in disabilities and she had longed to find a way back into that world again. Now, not only was she now spending time with her four-legged friends but she was teaching people with a disability to ride. Tracy had re-found a great sense of purpose. She wanted to do even more. We linked her to another group, the Compeer program. In this role, she spends time with people suffering isolation, meeting over a coffee to talk and create new connections. Perfect again. Tracy loves coffee and conversation! > This story is told by one of our Linkers.

In our conversations, music kept coming up again and again



was a child prodigy. She toured Australia playing piano and violin like a person twice her age but the pressure of being awesome took its toll. As Melissa got older, self doubt set in and poor mental health quickly followed. When I met Melissa, music kept coming up again and again in our conversations. She obviously missed it. But her passion was overwhelmed by her fear of playing again. ‘You know, it’s ok to play music at whatever level you want,’ I said to her. ‘You don’t have to be the greatest to play.’

At that moment she turned her head and saw some kids playing soccer in the park across the road. You could see the gears turning in her mind. ‘So…if I was playing soccer with the kids, for example, I don’t need to worry about kicking a goal? I just need to enjoy kicking the ball?’ Bingo! I gave Melissa information about jam sessions and music nights. A few weeks later, she was playing percussion with a band in a local pub. It was the passion without the problem.

> This is a story from one of our Linkers.


A SCOUTING CHANCE Once upon a time there was a nine year old named Josh.

Dad and Josh went to meet a Linker. The Linker asked Josh one simple question…

He loved his little sister Maddie and he was happy.

‘What makes you happy?’

Maddie had a disability and Josh always helped look after her. And make her happy too. Then one day, everything changed. The family moved to a different area. Everything was new. New house, new school, new friends. Well actually, scrap that last bit because Josh didn’t find new friends at all. Nope. In fact, at his new school, Josh was bullied. He couldn’t understand it and every day his Dad watched Josh grow sadder and lonelier. But Dad didn’t know how to help Josh because remember: he was new to the area too! Then one day,


Josh said he LOVED camping, fishing and being outdoors. ‘Aha!’, The Linker said. “I’ve got an idea!’ She connected Josh with the local Scouts group. The Scouts were super nice and welcoming. Josh suddenly saw new possibilities: badges to earn, camping trips, kayaking. And lots of new friends. In fact, some of the older Scouts went to Josh’s school. They’d talk to him at lunchtime and stand up for him against the bullies. And now Josh is happy again. And Dad and Maddie are happy too. One simple question. One clever idea. One momentous connection.


Changing lanes ‘He was really nervous about meeting the team and didn’t know what to expect…’ Brendan didn’t have a lot of spare time, what with work and day programs, but when he did he was mostly playing video games by himself. He really liked bowling but he hardly ever went because he didn’t have anyone to play with. He wanted to join a team and make new friends but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. I found an inclusive Saturday morning bowling league that welcomed everyone. Brendan was hesitant but said he would give it a go.

When we met outside the next week, Brendan told me that he had already almost gone straight home. He was really nervous about meeting new people and he didn’t know what to expect. Inside, the league manager gave him a big welcome and introduced him to the players. Brendan’s face broke out into a huge smile – right there, on the team, was an old friend he had lost contact with. The two mates made plans to practice together and Brendan signed up for the league that day. Strike one! > This story was told by one of our Linkers.


Anything is possible.

Trust travels I got a call from the principal of a local primary school. I’d met her once before when I was working with a family facing eviction. She told me she was worried about one of the families at her school who didn’t have enough support. They weren’t responsive to her at all. She couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t accept the services offered to them. I was like the go-between. During my first phone call with the Mum, I could tell that she was uncomfortable about meeting at the school. She needed a more neutral meeting place so I arranged to see her and the kids at the Neighbourhood Centre. The Centre is relaxed and welcoming – no pressure or judgement.

At first the family were very reserved. I could see Mum was nervous and I suggested we sit down for lunch. At this exact moment, out of nowhere, the other Mum I’d supported with the eviction miraculously appeared. She sat down with the family and leant in. She told them about our program and how we’d helped her. She told her own story to reassure the new Mum that I could be trusted. When she stood up to go, the family waved me over and we started talking about possibilities for the children and the support that was available. I often tell this story because it shows how well this program works. Good stories lead to good stories. > This story is told by one of our Linkers.


Let me check my diary |


ohn wanted to be more connected

with the people in his community but he didn’t know how to make the first move. He was stuck. Living in a rural area also meant that there weren’t a lot of people who loved the things that he loved – like playing the Bodhran (Celtic drum). John loved cricket too but his lack of confidence was getting in his way. He didn’t think he was good enough for the local club. That’s when I stepped in and made contact with them. The club members were shocked that John felt reluctant because they absolutely welcomed all abilities. They even had a special 4th Division to get people started.

So John went along… and then he went again… and now he plays every week. His confidence grew so much that he started thinking about doing other things again. Like his drumming. He asked me to help him contact the local pipe band, and went on to join them too. Not long after that I got a text from John. It said, ‘Hey, guess what? I got a job today!’ John is now out and about. This is what we see again and again: one change leads to another. John is now employed at an Australian Disability Project. > This is a story from one of our Linkers

Hey, I got a job today :-) 58







erry was pretty unhappy. Her disability pension was not stretching to cover the rent and she couldn’t hold down permanent work. She didn’t want to make any changes to her life even though it was making her unhappy.

Kerry started to build up her dream but of course a dream is not enough. Kerry had a lot of anxiety about pursuing it. To ease into it, I suggested she talk to people who had already done what she wanted to – set up permaculture properties, and WWOOFing* farms.

When I spoke to her about her passions, I found out Kerry was interested in permaculture. She had thought about it a lot, as a way to support herself and produce an income but she was too anxious to do anything to get the ball rolling.

A week later I saw her. She grabbed me and showed me photos of properties she had been looking at in Queensland. She was more excited about life than I’d ever seen her. And she had already booked a trip to begin her research and inspect some of the properties.

Kerry’s aunty had left her some money that would barely be a deposit in Sydney but would go a fair way towards buying somewhere further out. So I talked to her about possibilities like starting a small business, producing her own food, minimising her living costs and buying a place where travellers could stay and pay rent.

She had taken the first step to turn her dream into a reality. What might be possible if you let yourself dream big enough? *Willing Workers on Organic Farms

> This is a story from one of our Linkers.


Just ask As a Linker, I would often visit a community centre in Western Sydney when lunch was being served to members of the community affected by disability, unemployment and health issues. At first, very few people would talk with me and sometimes I would only get a ‘Hello’ from two or three people.  Many in this group are wary of services and hesitant to connect. This means that their voices are often not heard.


include all voices in their future planning. They asked me, ‘Can you help?’ I explained to them that it would be unfair to expect these people to fill out the survey from a list of questions. Most do not have internet access and many have disabilities that make it difficult to read and write. We came up with a new plan. We put a sign with one question per week on the tables where people sat and ate. I sat at the table and simply talked about the question with everyone and then told the council what their responses were.

So it was a long process of building rapport and trust. At least once a week I would visit to sit and chat about life, what they would like to see in their community and what would make a difference for them.

Finally, their voices were heard. Social planning should be reflective of an entire community. It is possible to reach everyone – if you find ways that will work for everyone.

When the local council was preparing its Social Planning surveys they wanted to

> This is a story told by one of our Linkers.

’d often see jimmy On the job, I he suddenly changed.

at one of the groups I visit. He was a country bloke and a man of few words. I’d always see him on the edges. He wasn’t the sort of bloke to sit around yarning over a cup of tea.

One day I mentioned to him about a local who needed some handywork done and Jimmy straightaway said he’d help. On the job, he suddenly changed. It was amazing. With a hammer and screwdriver in his hands, he was a different man. He opened up and started telling me his stories: about his army service, the different officers he’d had and of the terrible accident that almost killed him. By the end of the day, he’d found enough ease to talk to me about looking for a part time job to supplement his disability pension. He told me he’d been a forklift driver. I told him about a local courier business who often took on casual staff. He picked up his tools and told me he was going to give it a go. I hope he nailed it. > Told by one of our Linkers.



LOCAL SCHOOL OPENS GATES In the beginning: A local principal was feeling frustrated. He was trying to create a vibrant school environment where the parents, teachers and kids were all in it together. Top of his wish list was to have more parents visit school assemblies and the new parent-run reading club. This principal had tried many ways to make it happen but his message was not getting through. He couldn’t get parents through the gates. They stayed outside. What was going wrong?

In the middle: On the grapevine, the principal heard that our Linker understood the needs and vulnerabilities of this parent community. He asked for our Linker’s help and she jumped in. She identified two things that were probably not helping. Firstly, the school gates were always locked - this was safe for the kids but a barrier for parents. Locked

gates are never very inviting! Secondly, the assemblies were scheduled in the middle of the day, the worst time for many to attend. On the Linker’s suggestion, the school organised to have the gates unlocked at times they hoped parents would drop in. And they changed the assembly from the morning to the afternoon.

In the end: Bingo. These small changes meant the school seemed more friendly. Parents felt welcomed and included: more parents came to assembly; more parents dropped into the school grounds and mixed with staff; more parents volunteered at the reading club; more parents accessed the home learning information. In short: more parents. The frustrated principal lived happily ever after…




A date with change I remember once we had two people, Katie and James, who had never been on a date before so we linked them together and went off with them for a meal. They sat together at an outside table in this café.

said he’d never thought about that but now that he knew, he’d fix it. He said he’d get a portable ATM device to take to people outside.

When the time came for them to pay the bill, James couldn’t get his wheelchair inside the café to pay at the register. There was a small step and no ramp. I had to take his keycard and pay it for him. (Not a great feeling for a first date!)

Often change starts with the smallest suggestion, just planting the thought like a seed. You see the lights go on. They’re on board and excited. They’re thinking, ‘Yes, of course we can do something about that.’

I told the owner discreetly why James couldn’t pay himself. The owner was shocked and

Dignity and freedom restored as simply as that.

That’s what I love. > This story was told by one of our Linkers.


When Izzy arrived at my place, she was shaking and clearly uncomfortable. She was holding her mum tightly and didn’t want to leave her side. We coaxed her to come over to meet Sovereign – my big bay gelding. I explained to Izzy how I met Sovereign, and told her that he is very sensitive and can read peoples’ emotions. But neither her mum nor I could persuade her to go near the horse. That’s when Izzy began to cry. I was holding Sovereign’s lead rope and that big horse just started walking toward her . He slowly nuzzled his nose to this

child, as if to reassure her. He lowered his head and softened his eye. A little taken aback, Izzy managed to touch Sovereign on the nose and had a tiny breakthrough. Watching them, the tears welled in my eyes and I had to do my absolute best to keep it all together. Izzy, Sovereign and I then went for a walk around the arena. She put Sovereign through the obstacle course and that little girl’s smile grew bigger and bigger as her confidence soared. By the end of the session it was like Izzy had transformed into a completely different person. She had so much more confidence, she actually started to speak to me, and the bond she had begun to build with this big horse was amazing. It was the saddest and happiest morning all in one. We linked young Izzy with Adrian, an equine therapist in Moruya. He wrote this letter to us about their first session.


Everyone sees Garry’s involvement as a fantastic opportunity for all of us. We’re a small, very inclusive community club for the people in the Dee Why area. When we were approached by Ability Links about Garry joining us, I thought, ‘Why not? Let’s just get him down here and see what he wants to do.’ As soon as I met him I thought he was a really nice guy. I suggested he might want to join me as a sort of assistant coach to my Under 11s team.’ He was happy with that idea and I was too - that’s how it started. At first I wondered how the kids would go with someone new and different but no one ever even raised a question. He just became part of the squad and now everyone wants Garry here: kids and parents as well. Often I’ll say, ‘Garry, can you set out the cones?’ or ‘Garry, can you watch those kids over there with their drill and make

sure they’re doing it correctly.’ He talks to the kids and the parents; sits beside me on the bench during a game. He’s really a part of the team. I think everyone sees Garry’s involvement as a fantastic opportunity for all of us. It got us thinking about ways we can include more people too. Right now, we’re working on a project with the Tibetan community to get their kids involved and be part of our club. When I was 15, I came to Australia from the former Yugoslavia where we’d had wars and other problems. I felt very different but the number one way I found acceptance in the community was through football. And that’s the whole point of the game, isn’t it? A place for people from different backgrounds to learn acceptance and find common ground? > Story told by Bojan, Dee Why Soccer Club.


Nothing changes until somebody feels something.

| Acknowledgments |


tory collections like this depend on the generosity and courage of those sharing their stories.

To the people and businesses we have worked with who have shared their own experiences and reflections: thank you. We are so grateful for your stories and enthusiasm to be a part of With Open Arms. Your stories are gifts you have given us to share with others. To our Linkers and teams: thank you. You have generously shared your experiences. Anyone reading this book will benefit from your ideas. They truly show the value of genuine inclusion to everyone in community. Many of our Linkers also showed their creativity and flexibility in organising venues and assisting with the photographic shoots. We are grateful for your help. Uniting Ability Links would like to thank Moya Sayer-Jones and the whole team at


Only Human Communication. Moya: your energy and enthusiasm for this project and your skill in story gathering and writing has produced a beautiful record of the voices of people we have worked with. Uniting Ability Links would like to acknowledge photographer, Dean Golja for his wonderful photos; designer Clive Jones for his marvellous visual design work and illustrator, Tennyson Nobel, who so imaginatively created the cartoons to tell our stories of change. Thanks also to Mitchell for sharing his artwork. And last but by no means least, thank you to Helen Levingston, Ability Links Project Coordinator, for leading this project. Helen’s passion for Ability Links, her enthusiasm and commitment to share these stories is evident in her magnificent coordination of this visionary project for Uniting.

To contact Uniting Ability Links call 02 8830 0768 or email abilitylinks@uniting.org www.abilitylinksnsw.org.au www.uniting.org/ability-links



be i n s i r e d p

How do we work?

(Read more about this story on page 76)

Garry is looking for something fun and meaningful.

He meets Tania from Uniting Ability Links. She’s a BIG listener and loves new ideas…

Bojan helped Garry find what he was looking for. Garry is now an official volunteer coach. It’s a win-win!

Bingo! Bojan runs a soccer club for kids.