Making a difference to disabled



St Chads Communication Centre helps people with disabilities. Waiariki journalism student Alan Solomon finds out what the centre has to offer and how people have benefited from it.


Every day at St Chads Communication Centre Trust in Rotorua is busy, colourful, fun and hard work with the ultimate goal being to integrate the organisation's clients into the local community.

Four friends sit round a table at the trust and the topic of conversation for Caitlin Cox, Peter Blincoe, Natalie Birch and Barry Hill revolves around beer, computer games, work, the Olympics, TV shows, All Blacks and pets. It's a normal and passionate mix of topics for this foursome because it is all about what they love.

The four met at St Chads, which is unique to Rotorua, offering free services committed to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.

St Chads has a community facilitator whose role is to help clients find opportunities to participate in the community and support them.

These opportunities are often volunteer work positions.

Caitlin, 21, is a volunteer at the SPCA, helps her dad with building projects and loves to drink beer.

"I love video games like Spy Kids and my dog Ray,'' she says.

Peter, 47, loves to watch Fonzy on Happy Days and is employed at Pig & Whistle historic pub where he works every Monday and Wednesday mornings.

He loves his new job and says his dreams have come true. "I help set up the bar, turn on the beer taps, fill up the salt and pepper shakers. I even get to eat some food,'' he says.

Pig & Whistle assistant manager Dee McRoy says Peter is very excited about his job and is pretty good at it.

"Peter is a delight to have in the bar, he is always happy, always willing to do what he is asked and really helps me out,'' she says.

Natalie Anne Birch, 34, swims and is involved in ten-pin bowling with the Rotorua Special Olympics and is going to the Special Olympics National Summer Games in Dunedin next year. However, she says her job is just as important to her as competing.

She works at The Salon hairdressers every Wednesday morning where she is kept on her toes with one of her jobs of meeting and greeting customers as they walk in the door.

"I sweep the floors, clean the mirrors and tables but I like it when I get to go home to have cuddles with my dad and play with my dog Lucy,'' she says.

The Salon owner Beverly Wheeler says Natalie is a great employee who was a little shy at first.

"Natalie's confidence has really grown and now she is a real chatter. I am lucky to have her as part of our team,'' she says.

However, life is not all about work at St Chads and for one man, the conversation is directed towards his favourite rugby team and his fondness for the Rotorua police.

Donning his much-loved All Blacks shirt and a personal GPS around his neck, Barry Hill, 44, says he loves watching the reality television show Police Ten 7 but has concerns with the way people treat police.

"I have gone missing twice before and I have my GPS so the police can come and find me. I like the police very much and I don't like how people talk to them on TV. It is selfish,'' he says.

St Chads Communication Centre Trust has been operating for 30 years in Rotorua with the main aim of teaching life skills to around 70 people a week. Manager Steve King says there is a big emphasis on gardening, cooking, woodwork, music and art which they do within the centre.

"We also encourage the girls and guys here to do more in the community, exercise, socialise, and do work experience,'' he says.

"Some businesses have been with us for many years employing our people and we are so grateful for the support we get from the Rotorua community. It is tremendous to see our people mature and watch their confidence and abilities grow.''

Mr King  says the relationships developed between business owners and St Chads' people becomes a two-way street because the community gets to know people with disabilities better and are more accepting.

"Often people don't know what it is like to have a relationship with someone who has a disability and we are still trying to break down some of those barriers. It is the fear of the unknown. However, in a smaller town like Rotorua, having our people participating in the wider community helps raise awareness.''

St Chads' services are available to anyone who experiences any kind of disability although  it is mainly dealing with people with an intellectual disability, with some people going along once a week and others every day.

Clients must be either on an invalid's or sickness benefit.

With eight paid staff on hand and five volunteers, the team at St Chads use a personal planning process to identify the strengths, interests and needs of each individual.

During the process they develop programmes to meet each individual's unique ambitions and dreams.

About half of the trust's funding comes from the Ministry of Social Development and smaller contracts with the Ministry of Health, Rotorua Rehabilitation Services and Residential Inns and Services.

"Over the last five or six years, government funding hasn't increased but costs have and about 25 per cent of our funding we have to find from grants, which can be quite a challenge,''  Mr King says.

Governed by trustees, St Chads is open Monday to Friday with most of its activities running between 9am and 3pm.

Mr King says as the organisation is a small independent charity, they are always looking for volunteers who would like to share their time and work with their people. All volunteers will be interviewed and subject to police checks.

For more information contact Steve King on 07 347 8515 or email

- Rotorua Daily Post

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