A new shop that has opened in Port Lincoln, South Australia is filled with colour, handmade products, and recycled and upcycled furniture, but money can't buy what this place means to its eight employees.
- A new employer in regional SA, United We Made It, is empowering a group of people with a disability to have a voice
- For the participants, employment has led to mental health benefits
- People with a disability are less likely to be employed in regional areas than in major cities
United We Made It is a workplace, collective, and a shop that has given new purpose to a group of underemployed National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) clients.
It has been life changing for Anastasia Jelenik.
"This is a job that I thought I would never have," Ms Jelenik said.
In 2018, there were 1.1 million Australians with a disability, aged between 15 and 64 years, participating in the labour force.
Fifty-three per cent of people with a disability were in the labour force, compared to 84 per cent of people without a disability.
People with a disability living in regional areas were less likely to be in the workforce than those in the cities.
"I was born with a disability, thinking that, 'I'm never going to be able to do anything with my life', that 'there's not going to be anything in Lincoln for me to do', until this came along," Ms Jelenik said.
"I've been waiting for something like this for years.
"I am [proud] and it feels so surreal. I was thinking, 'My life is going to go to rack and ruin'.
"But nope, thanks to Joy, she's got me out of the sads, out of the down in the dumps, and brought me back to happiness.
"I've been given the opportunity to do something."
The brainchild of disability worker Joy Milton, United We Made It operates on a teamwork basis to empower the employees.
"We have 14 team members — six staff and eight participants, but we talk about ourselves as team members," Ms Milton said.
"It's provided them with a place they can be themselves and provided them with independence and just to feel good about themselves and what they do.
"They learn customer skills and money skills and all sorts of skills — it's very empowering."
Ms Milton said the participants had suffered mental health issues and accessing help was sometimes difficult.
"They need to be able to have someone they can talk to and confide in and often they don't know who that is … and carers and parents can be busy or they may not necessarily hear what they are saying."
Ms Milton said the mental health benefits of attending Unite We Made It created other opportunities.
"They've got more of a voice at home, they've got more of a voice in the community," she said.
"We are looking at being leaders in the community – we are teaching them to have a voice as individuals and as a group," Ms Milton said.
Having a place of employment has changed Ms Jelenik's quality of family life too.
"They're very happy for me on how far I've come personally," Ms Jelenik said.
"The joy and pride and happiness on their faces is just incredible.
"I can't believe how far we've come and all the wonderful things we've made.
"We're proud of each other.
"We tell each other every day that we're here, 'Good work, you're doing a good job, keep on doing it, you'll get there eventually'.
"It's more than art, for this I've dedicated my life," Ms Jelenik said.