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    Woodbine workers Robert Murray and Joshua Kelly admire the new Memory Garden recognising former Woodbine clients who have died.

Woodbine call to restart supported programs


A Wimmera disability support agency is eager to see a return of its supported employment and activity programs to boost morale during the coronavirus pandemic. 

During the second wave of restrictions, Warracknabeal disability support agency Woodbine was forced to close its programs to ensure clients were safe from risks of COVID-19. 

Woodbine has five supported accommodation houses and offers supported employment and day program opportunities across Warracknabeal. 

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The service provider also offers activities for people living in Horsham. 

Chief executive Bernie O’Connor said Woodbine was keen to see a return to more of its programs as restrictions eased. 

But uncertainty for the service provider has continued following premier Daniel Andrews’ Sunday announcement about easing restrictions in regional Victoria.  

“There is no indication at all when we will be able to restart to our supported employment or day programs,” he said. 

“These people, particularly those who rely on our day programs, miss their mates and they don’t get the same range of activities throughout the day.”  

Woodbine is able to offer its day programs to small cohorts of people who live outside of its supported living accommodation. 

But Mr O’Connor said the organisation was not adequately staffed to offer day programs at a full-capacity while focus was on running five houses in supported-living circumstances.

“There is no prospect at the moment that would allow us to do anything other than emergency-type support,” he said.

“Even then, we’re restricted by the amount of people we can put in a bus to go and do activities they used to do.

“And if we did that, we can’t congregate in the facility.

“We’ve got limited staff numbers, but we can do activities for small groups one or two times a week for people who aren’t in supported accommodation.” 

Woodbine’s supported employment program is also running at ‘reduced’ capacity. 

It normally provides work opportunities for people living with a disability at its café, laundromat, opportunity shop and a clothing shop. 

“We’ve closed Country Essentials,  the opportunity, we’ve closed everything except for what we consider essential,” Mr O’Connor said. 

“We’ve still got the laundromat open and our YarriYak Café is still open to provide for essential workers at Rural Northwest Health. 

“But these businesses are the reason Woodbine thrives and where we get our funding from. Closing those businesses is not an easy decision to make.” 

Mr O’Connor said there were still opportunities for clients to get involved
in gardening at Woodbine sites.  

He said the JobKeeper payment was a major relief for those who had lost their job during the pandemic. 

“The biggest comfort I have is that we have nearly everyone signed up for JobKeeper who are doing supported employment,” he said. 

“They’re getting a wage while we go through this grief together.” 

Uniting Wimmera is planning to restart its day programs for people living with a disability. 

The Horsham-based service provider would normally offer its participants opportunities to visit the library, shops, town hall, parks and other ‘relaxing or interesting’ community spaces.

It also runs exercise, performing arts and arts and crafts programs out of its Baillie Street address. All of these opportunities have been cancelled during the pandemic. 

Executive officer Josh Koenig said Uniting would look to return these programs in small groups in line with COVID-19 restrictions. 

“Our staff are really keen to get back as well – we’ve just got to make sure we reopen in the appropriate timeline and are mindful of government guidelines,” he said. 

“We’re in the planning process to reintroduce small groups in a COVID-safe way wherever possible.”

Mr Koenig said staff would continue to keep in regular contact with participants. 

“Since we suspended our day programs in their traditional format  we’ve been in contact with consumers on a weekly basis, whether over the phone, online Zoom meetings or through one-on-one appointments,” he said. 

“The impacts of mental health during this time has been on our radar.”  

The entire October 21, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!