A place to go, meaningful work to do, friends to be with, new skills to learn and somewhere to belong.

That's the philosophy behind Thrive Whakapuawai, a not-for-profit community programme that provides purposeful activities for young disabled adults in the Taupō community.

Thrive, which operates under the umbrella of local educational charity ADDI, presently has 12 adults aged from 18 to 30. All have mild to moderate disabilities and are reasonably independent. Thrive employs three staff but is also looking for volunteers to help work with the young adults and help them reach their full potential.

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Thrive was operating a three-day-a-week programme from ADDI's premises in Opepe St but has just moved into its own home, a vacant shop on Runanga St, Taupō.

Jordan Griffin, the manager of Thrive says it provides a community for adults aged from 18 upwards who see others their age going out into the world and being independent.

"They see their peers getting jobs and they see them in their own flats and with licences and all sorts and we create that possibility where they can dream as far as they want to and we help them.

"We create that opportunity for them to dream big and not feel like their disability could hinder them."

Until now, the adults have done a mix of activities from grocery shopping and cooking food, to contributing to the community with tasks such as picking up litter. Walks, trips, music, dancing and singing are all popular.

From left: Harina Kingi, Cameron Henson and Sarah Tanja cut up fabric strips which are used to make the firelighters that Thrive Whakapuawai sells in its shop. Photo / Laurilee McMichael
From left: Harina Kingi, Cameron Henson and Sarah Tanja cut up fabric strips which are used to make the firelighters that Thrive Whakapuawai sells in its shop. Photo / Laurilee McMichael

But the longer term goal, which Thrive is now embracing, was always to provide a bigger facility where the adults can 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. Now that Thrive has a large enough area, it can start to do so.

When the Taupō & Tūrangi Weekender visited last week, participants were busy with a variety of jobs. Some were cutting up fabric, which is mixed with beeswax to make firelighters, others were crushing cans and two young women were moulding shredded paper and water into paper bricks for burning. A selection of hand-made wheat bags was on display and pallets waited in one area to be dismantled and made into simple furniture. Thrive also regularly completes lawn-mowing jobs for local clients, makes kawakawa balm and bags up pine cones to sell.

Haylee Tibby, who was making paper bricks with Lydia Whittleton, explains that the bricks are being made now for burning in fireplaces in winter.

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"When it's cold and you need wood but instead of using wood we're using paper," she explains. "The only thing is that they take forever to dry."

Thrive Whakapuawai supervisor Jess McDonald, who is looking on, says the adults at Thrive are at their happiest when they are with each other and have something to do.

"We all care about each other, we are a family."

Thrive is modelled on successful programmes for disabled adults run in other centres, such as Hohepa in Hawke's Bay, St Chad's Charitable Trust in Rotorua and the South Waikato Achievement Trust in Tokoroa. The adults have an allocation of carer support days which they can use to pay for a carer, or to attend Thrive. Some come to Thrive every day, some for a couple of days a week, whatever suits.

Jordan says at Thrive the adults have a community around them and friends and are more independent.

"The idea is that Thrive becomes their workplace so they start at 9am, have a lunch break of half an hour and finish at 3pm so they get sense of what the workforce feels like. There's some that are able to get a job, they just need a little bit of support.

"It's not about money, but about them getting work."

Scotty (left) and James crushing cans at Thrive Whakapuawai in Taupō. Photo / Laurilee McMichael
Scotty (left) and James crushing cans at Thrive Whakapuawai in Taupō. Photo / Laurilee McMichael

Products created at Thrive will be sold in its shop and Jordan hopes the wider community will support Thrive by purchasing the goods the adults have made.

The shop in Runanga St is being provided rent-free for five months by building owner Cooper Family Investments to allow Thrive time to apply for funding to pay rent and wages and to get its enterprise arm off the ground. It has generous space for displays of goods made by Thrive as well as indoor and outdoor areas for the adults to work, enjoy recreation activities and socialise. Jordan says Thrive is grateful to Rick Cooper's support as it had been looking for somewhere suitable for a long time.

"What's cool about this place is we can make it our own...having our own place, they can totally be who they are.

"We want it to be a community programme where you walk in off the street, come and have a look at what we do and get inspired."

Jordan says Thrive already has a handful of volunteers, but would love more, even if only for an hour a week, to supervise the adults or collect resources for Thrive's programmes. The only qualifications needed are a passion for working with people, patience, tolerance and a willingness to adapt. The reward comes seeing the young adults' accomplishments and watching them learn new skills.

"But just treat them like adults because they are adults, they are more than capable."

Thrive would also love donations of wood pallets, pine cones and plant seeds. Jordan says to furnish the new building, donations of tables and chairs, an oven, a fridge and sofas would all be "amazing".

If you're interested in volunteering you can contact Thrive on 376 5027 or visit their website thrivewhakapuawai.org.nz