On Disability Enterprise

If you would like a humbling experience, spend a day within the operations of WA Disability Enterprise (WADE) organisations.  There are 8 of them, and they do everything from clothes recycling to printing to gardening.  These organisations provide real and meaningful employment to people who may otherwise be welfare dependent.  They give purpose and accomplishment to more than 2,000 people with disabilities and mental illness, and have been awarded contracts for the provision of tens of millions of dollars of goods and services.  Some of this business originates from the public sector, whom we are quick to criticise, but when they get it right in examples such as this, we should be quick to acknowledge.   

There is a future for a disability services initiative for the Perth Jewish community and the journey has already started. 

I know of at least a dozen children in the Perth Jewish community that have a physical or mental disability, and there are probably many more.  These children vary across the spectrums of medical diagnosis.  Their families, some of whom endure relentless challenges in providing care, do all they can to support and nurture their household, and participate in communal activities.  Sadly, some people isolate and avoid, but for the most part we are fortunate to be in a very empathetic and caring community.

Some wonderful examples exist of how care is provisioned in our community.  There are professional levels of care extended by organisations such as Jewish Care, Carmel School and the Maurice Zeffert Home.  With limited resources they extend the best opportunity available to support those in need.  But there are never enough funds, and as yet, no ancillary cause established within our community to directly augment this costly and increasingly burdensome task.

Then there are voluntary programs, for example the Friendship Circle where young volunteers give up their time to offer companionship and engaging activity with their special needs peers. These initiatives are often the most effective, and are conversely not expensive to operate.  Some people are not able to give of their financial means, but they are able to give of their time.  This is as important, if not more important.

During Limmud 2015 we heard from Dean Cohen who profiled Camp Sebaba that offers a unique and authentic camp environment for special needs children, and respite initiatives for their families.  This evolved through to the Best Bunch which provides commercial floral delivery services in an inclusive enterprise run to provide special needs employment, with returns back to Camp Sebaba.  The impact and popularity of this activity has now extended beyond the bounds of the Jewish community to become Flying Fox.

In Israel there are many fine examples of providing social action and employment from the highest echelons through to the smallest start-ups.  One of my favourites is Liliyot that provides restaurant and hospitality service delivering training and career paths for at risk youth, people from broken homes or children who have veered towards criminal activity.  They are able to rehabilitate and deliver sensitivity to people who may otherwise be neglected.   

Another example is Beehive Industries, which operates a factory based out of East Sydney.  They support at-risk citizens by engaging them in operations such as packaging, assembly and mail house services.

We also have a local example of enterprise via the extraordinary parent advocate Deb Flintoff, her son Joshua Flintoff, 18, and colleague Courtney Smith, also 18, who make fire-lighters and paper art products from newspapers they collect each week from their local communities. More information and the opportunity to engage is through the facebook page of The Really Useful Recyclers.

There is a need for yet another critical discussion for Perth Jewry on how we evolve disability enterprise.  The starting point is to explore how we can work together to deliver more in the way of structure and opportunity to the intellectually/physically impaired individuals, senior citizens and long-term unemployed members of our community.

Through organic initiatives a good start has been made.  There is much more to do, and no matter how much this further evolves, we will still always be able to do more.  Creating employment opportunities from within the infrastructure of the Perth Jewish community for those who are impaired from regular employment is a void that must be filled. 

One such strategy may be to create a Jewish sponsored WADE (WA Disability Enterprise) which delivers employment in controlled conditions for autistic and disabled people for activity within our community.  It could be for kosher meals on wheels, sorting the stock of the Menora Charity Fund, or any number of tasks that assist to procure, maintain and service our communal buildings.  There may be organisations are already ideally positioned to facilitate this, or it may require new energy to develop new social enterprise. 

In addition to fulfilling a mitzvah of creating livelihood, regarded as the highest form of tzedakah, a well constructed and profitable model can be revenue positive, delivering returns for reinvestment into the cause of educating and supporting those who are unable to be self-sufficient in the classroom or socially interactive elsewhere in the community.

These are the type of discussions we should be directing our energy towards.