Home > News > Archive > 10th November 2005

Helped build better society

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Leonie Mitchell

Leonie Mitchell is the kind of quiet achiever who makes Te Awamutu a great place to live - for all its residents.

She has stepped aside this year after 15 years as a trustee with Te Awamutu-originated disability services provider Gracelands. Mrs Mitchell has been a key contributor to the organisation since its inception in 1990. At that time she agreed to be part of a group of community and professional people who formed the inaugural Gracelands Board of Trustees.

As Mrs Mitchell and her husband struggled to access appropriate services for son, Russell, she formed a clear view about her expectations. She believes people with disabilities need to have ‘valued roles’ and be able to engage in purposeful activities. Those beliefs are strongly based in the Gracelands’ philosophy and purpose.

Mrs Mitchell was determined that ‘second best’ was never good enough - reflecting the time that such organisations were resourced with second hand goods.

She has been part of a board that has fostered the organisation as it has grown from a very small local group supporting about 35 people with a turnover of about $200,000, to a large regional group of services that supports nearly one thousand people a year with a turnover exceeding four million dollars.

Changing with clients’ needs

Robyn Klos

Gracelands CEO Robyn Klos says although the disability services provider has been hugely successful over the past 15 years, it has to change with the times.

In her annual report, Mrs Klos says that the environments in which Gracelands is operating are clearly changing, reflected in the changed needs and aspirations of the people it represents, along with expectations and limitations of funders.

“The last psychopaedic institution is closing and disabled people who have gone through mainstream schooling expect mainstream lives with their support needs met by mainstream services. Therefore, that must be an aspiration for Gracelands.”

Mrs Klos says that Gracelands vision has always stretched beyond being a conduit for Government contracts.

“Focussing on our mission we need to widen our horizons to achieve this.”

Gracelands provides a portfolio of vocational and related services to disadvantaged groups of people which enable and support fulfilment, satisfaction and inclusion into their communities.

“Increasingly Gracelands is exploring opportunities to widen the groups of disadvantaged people we will work with and the mainstream population, strengthening our financial base through enhancement and development of commercial ventures, many of which also offer people employment opportunities.”

Gracelands began in Te Awamutu, but has expanded into other communities. Hamilton is now the main centre for service provision - with 39% of all disability client work completed there. Te Awamutu services support 29% of Gracelands’ clients. The rest are from throughout Waikato and King Country regions.

Services for accident insurance claimants is the biggest disabilities group, with 49% of clients having physical or medical related impairments; 31% having an intellectual impairment and 14% having mental health and behavioural issues. Maori comprise 26% of all clients, with an increasing diversity of ethnicity among other clients including Pacific Islanders.

The growth of commercial activities such as Gnet, laundromat and recruitment agency services sees Gracelands working with larger groups of customers without disabilities.

Mrs Klos says the low value society places on the section of the population with disabilities, reflected in Government funding levels, continues to impact on the ability to provide quality services.