Alex Straubinger, business services manager of The Salvation Army’s Creative Opportunities in Brunswick (Vic.), oversees a million-dollar business employing people with disabilities. Bron Williams spoke with Alex about the business’s dual roles of empowering people while giving fast and reliable service to its customers.
How did you get involved with disability services?
I was working for Visy and when they subcontracted work out to Yooralla (Melbourne)—one of Australia’s largest non-profit disability services—I first saw the impact disability services could make.
Like many men, I was working long hours, but this wasn’t an issue until my sons were born. It was then that I reassessed how much time I was spending away from home—fatherhood changed my perspective on what was important in life.
When an opportunity arose to move into the disability sector, I took it. I’ve been in the disability service industry for more than 30 years now, and with Creative Opportunities for the past 11 years.
The appeal for me with disability services is that I help provide opportunities for people who wouldn’t normally have them—it’s great to be able to empower people in this way. It also fits with my Christian faith, in that Jesus included and valued people from all areas of society.
What sets Creative Opportunities apart from other disability services?
We provide opportunities for people who wouldn’t normally have the chance of regular work and seek to empower them—particularly in the area of social interactions—as many of our employees often find inclusion difficult. We give them some real independence in their lives.
Creative Opportunities is not a welfare service. Our employees go through a regular application process, including an interview. An assessment is also done to ensure that the employment opportunities we provide are a good fit for each individual.
The Australian Disability Enterprises field (of which Creative Opportunities is part) is not large and the operation here in Brunswick is the only one of its kind operated by The Salvation Army.
The work environment here is one which values employees enjoying their work, finding fulfilment and acceptance, and giving and receiving respect. We acknowledge the contribution each of our employees makes to the desired future of this business.
We have individual training so that new employees are suitably inducted into workplace practices, while others achieve their individual employment plan goals.
What do you find the most satisfying about your role?
I love the very real sense of community here. Everyone is encouraged to add to the community by practising random acts of kindness and then sharing what they’ve done at our morning briefings, such as giving up their seat on a tram or helping someone in the supermarket.
People also have the chance to share their personal stories—we have some very creative and musically talented people. We also have regular social functions that everyone can be part of.
Our employees are comfortable being part of a structured environment. But there’s also a good balance between workplace expectations and being able to support people.
How is Creative Opportunities currently funded?
Around 55% of our income is via block grants from the government. The rest is from sales of the products and processes we provide. This is a genuine business as well as being a fully-accredited disability service.
How will the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) affect Creative Opportunities?
From July, government funding will no longer be allocated directly to disability service providers. Instead, each individual will be able to apply to the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) to develop a plan to meet their support needs.
When a comprehensive plan is developed covering services and supports—such as daily living aids, support workers, mobility and communication aids, as well as suitable employment—they can choose to purchase the service which best meets their needs. In this way, each individual is empowered to make choices about their own work and employment.
We are registered as an NDIS service provider and have reviewed our information technology systems to ensure we meet reporting requirements. We’ve also held training sessions with our employees so they can appropriately apply for an NDIS plan of support.