"We don't see ourselves as an organisation, we see ourselves as a community."

A healthy community looks after all its members and that's the philosophy behind Thrive Whakapuawai, a three-day-a-week programme which provides meaningful activities for young disabled adults in the Taupō community.

Thrive, which operates under the umbrella of local educational charity ADDI, has nine adults aged from 18 to 26. All have mild to moderate disabilities and are reasonably independent.

ADDI has been providing a one-day programme for adults with disabilities for two years now but this year extended it to give young adults a place to go, things to do, skills to learn and a valued place in the community.


At Thrive, the young adults do a mix of activities from grocery shopping and cooking food, to contributing to the community with tasks such as picking up litter. They get out and about for walks and trips in the local area. Music, dancing and singing are all popular activities.

Longer term, the goal is to provide a bigger facility where the adults can do meaningful work, create their own products to sell, or work in their own small businesses and earn a wage, and where the wider community and volunteers can participate.

ADDI managing director Gaye Vartiainen says staff visited similar programmes to see what could be replicated in Taupō.

They went to the South Waikato Achievement Trust in Tokoroa, which provides a wide range of work opportunities for disabled people, to Hohepa Hawke's Bay which has its own farm, workshops and shop and to St Chads Charitable Trust in Rotorua which provides life and work skills and has its own art gallery and shop.

Gaye says the idea behind all the programmes is to involve the young adults in their community in a natural and meaningful way where they lead lives like people their own ages, but doing different things.

At present the money for the young adults to come to ADDI's programme comes from carer support days each person's family or caregiver receives to allow them to be looked after by a third person or group. Gaye says numbers vary from three to eight participants each day and on the days they don't attend, the young person is usually at home with a caregiver.

Thrive programme co-ordinator Jordan Griffin says he is loving working with the young adults, contributing to them and helping draw the best out of them.

On the day the Taupo & Turangi Weekender visited, the group had been shopping for ingredients and was about to make pizzas for the children on the after-school programme, followed by a physical activity, then some singing or ukulele. The day before, they had visited the Taupō Wake Park to learn to wakeboard.


Jordan says while some Thrive participants only made it as far as getting in the water, others gave it wakeboarding a go and for everybody, it was a huge challenge that they conquered in different ways.

"It's stuff that they wouldn't normally do or people wouldn't take them to because of their disability so we just create that opportunity for them. They would never wakeboard in their life so we are able to give them this opportunity."

There is some teaching that goes on too. Staff worked hard with one of the adults to teach him to read. Now he can't get enough of Taupō Library's books.

Jordan says the adults all comprehend what the teachers are saying and although some can't communicate with words, they have good relationships with the teachers and other adults and can make themselves understood.

During a break in activities the young adults recounted their wakeboarding trip and the fun they had. Cameron Henson, 19, reported he had made it up on the wakeboard and Haylee Tibby, 18, says while she got in the water as a first step, she hadn't had her first practice run yet.

Cameron said at Thrive he loves to dance and do Fitness Marshal videos on YouTube. On his days away from Thrive, Cameron often helps his dad but other times he comes home and has to find a way to amuse himself, often with his interests in music or photography.

Haylee says being at Thrive helps her be more independent and the best thing is socialising with her friends who are there.

"We are all like a whānau.

"We have fun here and we don't tolerate bullying.

"If I'm not here I'd just be at home by myself and I find it sometimes hard to be home and look after myself."

James, who is non-verbal but has no problem making himself understood, indicates his favourite activity at Thrive is dancing and when the music is pumping, he loves to play along on his imaginary bagpipes.

Gaye says for the young adults on Thrive, being out and about with other adults their age teaches them they can be part of the community and don't need to be looked after one-on-one.

"They feel a sense of belonging which is ultimately what we want."