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Participants at the ORCA Project Photo: Wesley Mission Queensland

Diving into new employment opportunities with ORCA

Starting a new job can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone but for young people with disability there can be a range of social, emotional, physical and cognitive challenges to overcome as they settle into a new work environment. With the establishment of the ORCA (opportunities, readiness, community and abilities) Project, support is now available to ease that transition. Journey reports.

For Rev Alison Cox who developed ORCA, the project is deeply personal: her daughter’s participation with a work experience program for young people with disability was educational but there were limited long-term employment opportunities at its conclusion.

Sensing an opportunity to better assist young people with disability find longer-term employment, Alison approached Wesley Mission Queensland (WMQ) with the idea of the ORCA Project as a space for young people to contribute and feel valued. Together they further developed the concept and it has now become an official WMQ program based at Albany Creek Uniting Church.

“There is a balance to be found between treating people with disability like you would any other person and making the allowances necessary to ensure success,” says Alison. “ORCA is about empowerment, about finding and focusing on the strengths and interests of the young people who participate and supporting them in the direction of employment that they most want to head.

“We will be providing support from the moment they walk in the door to well beyond when they leave—we want our participants to have success in the workplace, and that will require ongoing support, not just setting up a job placement.”

WMQ is currently accepting applications and it is envisaged participants would spend one to two years (depending on their engagement, experience and capacity) further developing skills and readiness training, participating in work-based learning and then transitioning to employment.

WMQ’s Service Development Manager Michelle Hildebrand sees Uniting Church congregations playing a crucial role in realising ORCA’s potential.

“We are working with Albany Creek Uniting Church in the first instance to pilot the project. Their role will be to consider a small social enterprise/business that can be developed at the church to provide meaningful work for young people,” says Michelle.

“Alison’s idea to create real work opportunities for young people with disabilities through leveraging the Uniting Church congregations was something that resonated with [Wesley Mission Queensland CEO] Geoff Batkin; Geoff has been talking to us about the wonderful resource that is the congregations—their knowledge, their networks and their heart for missional opportunities.”

“We would encourage congregations to get in touch to talk about what kinds of ideas they have (dream big and plan well) to provide varied kinds of
micro-business opportunities across the south east corner of Brisbane.”

For individuals, Alison points out there are other ways to support the ORCA Project through prayer or sponsoring young people who may not be able to afford participation costs.

“God has opened and continues to open doors as the project takes shape,” says Alison. “This project may ultimately be another reflection and experience of the Kingdom of God—where each person is valued, loved and welcomed.”

For more information about the ORCA Project or to register visit wmq.org.au/orca

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