This Christmas, the Herald is profiling 12 charities chosen to get a $12,000 grant from Auckland Airport as part of its Twelve Days of Christmas giving programme – now in its twelfth year. The $144,000 comes from generous travellers who donate money in globes throughout the airport.

Walk into the Recreate kitchen on a Thursday and you'll be enveloped in the sweet scent of jam on the boil and five of the biggest smiles you'll ever see.

Imogen Dobbs and three other young women with Down syndrome are making professional-quality jam, relish and chutney to sell at farmers' markets as part of Recreate's work skills programme, which has received $12,000 from Auckland Airport as part of its Twelve Days of Christmas giving programme.

Dressed in a hairnet and apron, Imogen demonstrates her skills with a sharp knife. "It's my job to chop the rhubarb. I love cutting. It's my favourite," she says. Her joy is infectious. The 22-year-old is part of a well-oiled team called Our Harvest that processes fresh fruit and veges from Recreate's two orchards in Kumeu and Karaka, also run by young people with intellectual disabilities.

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Imogen Dobbs makes jam in the Recreate kitchen in Mt Eden. Photo / Supplied
Imogen Dobbs makes jam in the Recreate kitchen in Mt Eden. Photo / Supplied

Only seasonal produce is used. Next, they're on to strawberries. Music blasts from a stereo on the windowsill of the light-filled kitchen overlooking Mt Eden's tennis courts. Each week, everyone gets to add one song to the playlist. Boom Boom Pow by The Black Eyed Peas is Immy's choice. The tracklist, built up over two years, is loaded with banging party hits.

Immy's mum, Penny Dobbs, gets emotional when she talks about the impact Recreate has had on their family. "It's beyond positive – it's life-changing," she says.

"Having a child with a disability isn't easy. It's hard on the dynamics of a family and taking time out from a child you adore is difficult. I'm so thankful I can leave Imogen in a place where she feels safe, supported and confident. She calls Recreate her 'second family'. The young volunteers are so fun and passionate. They deliver the programmes with such respect, patience and belief in potential. It's incredibly special," she says.

"Imogen loves the process of product-making and then marketing and selling. Her communication skills have improved so much. She practises her sales pitch on us often and has terrific product knowledge. I get corrected in the kitchen for my hygiene and safety methods regularly now."

Imogen Dobbs with the Our Harvest products in the Recreate kitchen. Photo / Supplied
Imogen Dobbs with the Our Harvest products in the Recreate kitchen. Photo / Supplied

"Any parent just wants their child to be happy - that's the holy grail really. Recreate has delivered our holy grail," says the mother-of-three.

Imogen says the skills she's learned at Recreate have led to a part-time job as a kitchen assistant with Gatting's Catering. "I help with the food prep and services. I squeeze the filling into the tarts and I do the dishes." She enjoys the satisfaction of filling out her timesheet and being paid for her efforts.

Fashion, along with food, is her other great love. She delights in shopping for clothes and going out to lunch with her friends from Recreate's Girls Club. The social group also do "burgers and bowling" and even go to Fashion Week.

Auckland Airport's general manager of corporate services Mary-Liz Tuck says the grant will help Recreate to continue its work skills programmes and buy a commercial greenhouse for their orchards so the young people can grow out-of-season produce in their orchards.

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"Auckland Airport is proud to support a work programme that provides a platform for experiential learning and meaningful work experience for uniquely abled young people," she says.

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