Tauranga charity helps people live their best life

Avalon/Momenta helps Julie Thomson, right, and Mitchell Brown, centre, get the most out of life, they chat with Momenta CEO Tania Wilson, left. Photo: John Borren.

The daily grind of work, eat, sleep, repeat gets mundane but for two Tauranga people it is all they wanted.

Julie Thomson and Mitchell Brown have learning challenges and spent most of their adult life doing day programmes with Avalon – a charitable trust that works with people with disabilities.

They would be picked up, head to Avalon in Te Puna where they would spend the day doing activities there or in the community or, in Mitchell’s case, nursery work and landscaping as well.

Five years ago the charity changed tack and decided people need to have a say in their life and how they spend their days.

Avalon chief executive Tania Wilson says the change was led by the participants themselves because they wanted more out of life.

“They wanted more autonomy and more control over their lives and respite day service just wasn’t going to cut it for people.

“It's not how you have a good ordinary life by being stuck out in the country five days a week, with someone telling you what you have to do all day long.”

The property in Te Puna was sold and Avalon moved into town so community connectors could work one on one with people to help them achieve their goals.

“We were really committed to finding a way to do things differently so we could get out of people’s way and start letting them live the life that they wanted to, which was amazing.”

The change was a lot at first for Mitchell who was anxious having only known Avalon as a day service for 10 years.

“When we first moved it was quite frightening and scary, because you’ve been at one place for so long and you tend to forget where you are.”

After the move Mitch started a course at Toi Ohomai and is working towards a computing level two course.

He owns his own home and uses the bus to get to his two part time jobs. The 34-year-old started volunteering at the House of Science six years ago which became paid employment two mornings a week and he also works at a liquor store on Saturdays.

Mitchell’s community connector Mike Dunston has helped him with the transition and to apply for his course.

He says he is “heaps confident” now and enjoys being part of the community.

Julie loves working at the House of Science as well. She also started as a volunteer and now works two mornings a week.

She completed a diploma in computing and also works one morning a week at Harris Tate Lawyers doing admin.

The 41-year-old has been with Avalon for 22 years and was really excited for the change.

“I like working in the community because you meet [people] and I have my own freedom.”

Tania says Julie’s community connector Nikki Moloney is tenacious and passionate about ensuring people can achieve what they want to so she and Julie worked together to ensure she would gain the skills needed for an administration role.

Mitchell and Julie play tenpin bowling on Thursday nights with the Tauranga Special Olympics club.

Julie also plays indoor bowls with the club while Mitchell does athletics and sprints in summer. He is spending the off season keeping fit in the gym so he’s in shape for summer.

Tania says the pair’s lives are a great example of what their participants can achieve with the right support.

“Success for us is when people say: ‘I'm living my good life, an ordinary life, like anyone else is and I don't need you as a service,’ which is just super exciting for us.”

Julie and Mitchell’s community connectors remain available to them at any time even it if it’s to talk through something small.

The change in direction for the organisation has led to the need for a new name so from now on Avalon will be known as Momenta.

Julie says Avalon is no longer appropriate for where the organisation is heading and Momenta the plural of momentum is a perfect fit for their vision.

“We’re about helping people move forward with momentum. Helping them achieve what they like and what they want to achieve. We're also about moving community forward and systems forward.

“Momenta really captures the essence of what we are now and what we aspire to be in the future.”

She says they are now focussing on working with other organisations to lead social change and break down the systemic barriers there are for disabled people around employment opportunities, education outcomes and access to housing.

“We've come to realise the incremental work you do with people is amazing and you can make a shift in their life, but the systems, that entrenched devaluation in the first place and disadvantage, that doesn't shift with that one-on-one work.”

With the new name also comes a new location Momenta is moving to The Kollective in September as well.

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