August 22, 2023

The experiences of disabled people are being used to help Choices NZ decide its future direction.

Choices NZ provides flexible support services, including employment services and life coaching. The Choices Board will be working with four people it supports for several months to develop its future strategy.

“To come up with innovative ideas, we need a room of innovative people who understand intimately what is most important. Who better than the people we support?” says Board member Sam Johnson, founder of the Student Volunteer Army.

Fellow Board member Ashlie Brink says Choices clients are role models to achieve change in the community. The role of the Choices NZ Board is to ensure these role models can shine. “One cannot happen without the other nor should it. Without ... our clients’ voices, all we are left with are opinions and little action,” she says. “Choices NZ is about choices and not about opinions.” Ashlie lectures in education at Te Rito Maioha – Early Childhood New Zealand.

Donna Mitchell, IHC General Manager of Service Development and Strategy, says it’s important for the Board to understand the disability environment when designing a strategy to enable good lives and give more choice and control to the people we support.

The advisors are Hamish Taverner and Courtney Ratana from Palmerston North, Grace Finaulahi from Feilding and a young man from Porirua being supported through the Choices NZ Employment Service. At their first meeting with the Board, in June, they described how Choices had enabled them to make changes in their lives and achieve goals.

Hamish, 58, lives in his own home in Palmerston North and has a strong background in self-advocacy. He is a member and former Chair of the IHC Rangitīkei Association and a former National Chairperson and now Central Region President of People First NZ. Hamish was awarded the Attitude Leadership Award at the 2017 Attitude Awards.

His Choices life coach helps him with cooking and keeping on top of running his house.

Courtney, 43, had never had a job when he started with Choices and was living at home with his mother. He has now been in paid employment at the Lido Aquatic Centre in Palmerston North for more than a year. This year he moved into a flat and started playing golf at the Manawatu Golf Club, making new friends, developing his skills and dreaming of becoming a competitive golfer.

Grace, 23, has grown in confidence since signing on with Choices. She volunteers at Feilding High School, helping special needs students, and with New Zealand Riding for the Disabled. She is now living a more independent life since moving out of home and into a flat, and she has new-found freedom after learning how to catch the bus into Palmerston North to attend an art class and meet her life coach.

“I feel like everything is getting a bit smoother [in] my life at the moment.”

Caption: The Choices NZ Board and advisors (from left) Hamish Taverner, Board Chair Suzanne Win, Grace Finaulahi, Ashlie Brink, IHC Group Chief Executive Ralph Jones, Courtney Ratana, Chief Operating Officer Joan Cowan and Sam Johnson.

This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.

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