Ausnew Home Care | The Tweed Heads charity factory

The Tweed Heads charity factory where friendship rules and workers with disabilities find fulfilment

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Nestled in a busy industrial estate in northern NSW is a nondescript factory where friendship, support and determination is all part of the package. 

The Synergy Group is a not-for-profit business that gives people with disabilities work and purpose.

Mitchell O'Keefe, 28, is one of the group's most enthusiastic employees, taking a sense of pride in his everyday work.

Group photo of packaging workers at factory in white coats and protective masks and head gear Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
The "extended family" at the Synergy Group plant in South Tweed Heads.(

ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border


A happy team don white coats, hair nets and face masks to package up a variety of goods including teas and powders.

All up, more than 60 people with a permanent disability are on the books. 

"If there's nothing to do I try to find something to do even if it's cleaning," Mr O'Keefe says.

Prized employees

Aside from a sense of purpose, Mr O'Keefe loves the close relationships he has with his workmates.

"All the people I work with they really like me. I don't feel like when I'm at home and sit around doing nothing," he says.

"Here I am doing lots of good things and I'm really happy with myself.

"I don't find anything wrong about this place. I just find it the best place to work." 

Care, cars and love

A woman with curly hair standing in front of colourful work sign smiling
Building business and morale: Synergy Group development manager Monica Leitao.(

ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border


Pocket dynamo and newly-recruited business development manager Monica Leitao walks the factory floor greeting the staff with compliments and care. 

It doesn't go unnoticed by one of her charges, Craig Reed, an employee for 28 years who enjoys a jovial verbal jousting match.

He piles praise on his boss, who he refers to as "young Monica". 

Devoted employees

With three decades under his belt at Synergy, William Farrell is another satisfied employee.

"Everyone gets on so well. It is a little bit like a family,"  he says.

The sentiment is echoed by Tabatha Sercombe, who has notched up 12 years.

A woman smiling at the wheel of her vehicle
Employee Katrina Phillips has used her pay to buy her first car.(

ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border


The work also leads to achievements outside the factory floor.

For "labelling Queen" Katrina Phillips, 49, that includes buying her first car. 

"I love it. It (the car) has some problems but I love it," she says.

For now, Mitchell O'Keefe's father is looking after his pay packet, but it's not all about the money for the young worker.

"They know I'm doing something with my life and getting paid for it."

In white coat and protective hair net, a smiling woman works at a packaging plant
Happy packaging worker Rebecca Cross.(

ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border


More business means more help

Securing more clients is a no-brainer for business success, but it holds a far deeper importance at Synergy.

More businesses on the books means more people like Mr O'Keefe and Ms Phillips can find employment and a purpose.

"The more work we have the more people we can help," Ms Leitao says.

Ms Leitao recently signed up a Melbourne business who needed their hair oil packaged, and tears up at the prospect of helping more people.

As is standard practice at this workplace, an emotional reaction prompts an abundance of hugs and caring words, with employee Ms Sercombe consoling her boss.

The care definitely goes both ways, as Ms Leitao bursts into song on the factory floor, serenading Ms Sercombe with the song, You Light Up My Life.

To which she giggles: "Here she goes! Monica just makes it so much better."

Source: ABC

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