From growing organic herbs and vegetables to taking care of people’s lawns, Mamre Garden Service is providing supported employment and skills-training opportunities for people with disability across Western Sydney.
Mamre Garden Service is a not-for-profit employment and training enterprise which aims to give skills, confidence, and ability to people with disability. It is a service of CatholicCare Western Sydney and Blue Mountains.
Director for Facilities and Special Projects at CatholicCare, Jean Pierre Abood, says the supported work opportunities fall into two main categories – employment at Mamre Garden Services’ nursery, farm and garden at Mamre House in Orchard Hills, and off-site employment, where teams go out to provide garden services for private clients.
“It depends on the level of disability that each person has,” Jean Pierre says.
“If they have a higher level of disability and need more specialised care and attention, they stay in and around our site, which is 250 acres of land, and they do work in our nursery, or farming or landscaping works.
“We teach them about propagation of plants in the nursery, as well as provide skills in gardening and farming. Everything is organic on the farm, we use no commercial fertilisers, so our employees are learning skills in organic methods, using horse manure, and liquid worm fertiliser from our own worm farm. We’ve also got beehives.”
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Jean Pierre says the produce is then sold through Mamre Garden Service’s established networks.
“Members of the public order our fruit and veggie boxes,” he says. “And orders stream in.”
Similarly, the plants grown in the nursery are sold commercially.
Meanwhile, employees who are assessed to have a lower level of disability, go out into the community as part of a Mamre Garden Services team, where, under the guidance of a supervisor, they do landscaping works, gardening and lawn maintenance for commercial properties or other clients.
The employees are supported and funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme according to their individual need and capacity.
Jean Pierre says that each year about 10 per cent (or one to two people) of the Mamre Garden Services employees are transitioned into mainstream employment, using the skills they have been taught.
“They don’t all end up in garden services, but in lots of different employment areas,” he says. “We’ve had one young fellow get a job at KFC and another person now working in hospitality, and another in a landscaping firm.
“One young lad is doing his Responsible Service of Alcohol course and wants to move into hospitality, and one of our garden service supervisors is going through the online course with him.
“So, we do try to transition them into employment where we can, but in other cases they stay with us and continue to gain skills and work on our property.
“We have a mix of all ages, with our youngest employee aged 17 and our oldest, Norma, aged 70. She’s retiring at the end of October.”
Jean Pierre says the Mamre Garden Services model is based on Catholic Social Teaching about the dignity of work.
“The best thing you can give a person is a job,” he says. “To do a job and get a pay cheque for it, there’s just something intrinsic in that which means a lot to them.”
Jean Pierre says that working with people with a disability in a work environment requires patience and understanding of each person’s ability.
“You do have to find ways to motivate them to complete certain tasks and also identify any issues they might have going on that might be affecting them, so you can work out the best way forward,” he says.
“But it is also very rewarding for the supervisors. To be a part of providing these people with gainful employment, skills, and a social outlet is pretty special.”
CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains
Mamre Garden Services operate across Western Sydney. For more information contact Jean Pierre on (02) 8843 2500 or email Enquiries@ccss.org.au.
For more information about other CatholicCare services, visit www.ccss.org.au.