They may not fit well into your standard workplace - but they still have a contribution to make.

It's trying to find a niche for people who have left school but who might struggle to hold down a job in the mainstream workforce that new Taupo trust DNA wants to achieve.

DNA, which stands for Diverse Needs Assistance, was set up by Taupo women Jo Douglas, Jo Moffat and Gaye Vartiainen, and is being modelled on the successful South Waikato Achievement Trust in Tokoroa.

DNA was born out of the former Taupo Aspergers Support Group, which was set up in 2008 with the aim of raising awareness and securing funding for the Taupo district to have its own Autism NZ support worker, which was achieved in 2011.


Now the goal is to provide meaningful employment for people with challenges.

Mrs Vartiainen said DNA's service would be aimed at young adults with challenges such as autism, anxiety, learning challenges, or social difficulties that make it difficult for them to be employed in the mainstream workforce and who may not be in work or training.

She said many of the young adults in Taupo who can't work because of their challenges just stayed at home all day after leaving school, although some go to IDEA Services.

DNA hoped to emulate the achievements of the South Waikato Achievement Trust (SWAT), which was set up in Tokoroa in the 1970s and provided a range of employment
opportunities and services for adults with challenges.

Mrs Vartiainen said what had been key to its success was that it is fully embraced by its local community, which drewson its workers for help with projects, supported its services and shop, and provided opportunities.

"Having a shop in town means these people are right in town, they're part of the community, they've valued, they're seen as an integral part of the town."

SWAT had a creative arts shop which sold art and ran art lessons, a vegetable garden, held the contract to collect and sort the town's recycling, had a kindling-making factory and a recycling centre for electronics where old computers and electrical items were dismantled and the metal components sorted for reuse.

All the businesses were self-sustaining and the workers paid to work there. They rotated around the various roles to keep things interesting.


The workers were busy all day and had people to talk to and work to do.

"Some [workers] have got social issues but there's music and people they know and they're fine although they may be too anxious for a mainstream job."

Because the emphasis is on independence, SWAT also operated flats for people to live in independently and a residential home for people with disabilities. They are supported by caregivers who helped the residents as needed, and did things like organise outings.

Mrs Vartiainen said while the SWAT model was rare in New Zealand, it was common in some countries such as Sweden and the goal was to provide real work that enabled people to contribute to their community.

From there some people will move into paid employment elsewhere, while others will remained indefinitely because they couldn't hold down a job in the outside world.

"It gives them meaningful work to do, a place to go where they feel valued and they make a contribution to society plus social contact and independence as well as earn money of their own. This is what we want to achieve in Taupo."

Mrs Vartiainen said the first step was a meeting next Thursday evening for people to learn more about DNA and explain the concept.