When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. – Alexander Den Heijer
Encompass Community Services’ CEO Elaine Robb says, “At the very core of Encompass is a tenacity to succeed, despite what the world around puts up as barriers to those we continue to support and assist.” For over 30 years, Elaine and the team at Encompass have been tirelessly and quietly working hard; pushing for change to fix the environment, in order for people of all abilities and backgrounds, to grow and evolve into the best version of themselves.
Starting out as one of only nine funded Disability Employment services in Australia in 1985, Encompass has opened its arms to embrace more people and their needs; where access to training, employment and life skills takes absolute priority. “We are people-centered. We believe and invest in people and are interested in working with them to help them realise their goals, no matter how long it takes. We happily go through the journey with them,” Encompass CEO Elaine Robb says.
“Everyone deserves a fair go and people with disabilities have the same desires and goals about life as everyone else does. People with disabilities with whom we work are people first and foremost. They want to have a home, a family, a job and they want to contribute to their community. They can, and many already do.”
Christy, an Encompass employee who works with their food services team, lives with Down syndrome. “I make the best yoyo,” she confidently states. She has been working at Encompass for over ten years now, even receiving a Service Award a few years ago. “Encompass has helped me a lot. I love coming to work because it is fun. We laugh all the time and it is okay to be silly sometimes. I am also great at making pies. Encompass is very lucky to have me!”
She started accessing Encompass’ life skills support program over ten years ago and discovered a passion for the kitchen. “I would like to learn how to make coffee one day. I am good at a lot of stuff and I am sure I will learn pretty quickly. Next time, you will say Christy makes the best coffee! Then I will run this place,” Christy laughs.
And what’s not to say that she can’t. There are so many people like Christy at Encompass, kicking goals and breaking stereotypes. This is the heart of what Encompass does.
Encompass is committed to improving the lives of people living with a disability; and has meticulously designed programs and services that create a more inclusive, diverse and sustainable community.
They are customer service leaders in delivering NDIS supports, which include: Options and Connections, offering life skills and independent living programs; Encompass Respite and Tours, providing a range of community-based daytime, overnight and weekend activities and mini-breaks for adults who live with a disability; and In Home Care & Domestic Supports, assisting with everyday domestic activities and personal tasks, helping to increase a person’s capacity to be independent in their own homes and participate with confidence in their community. Encompass also has a service under the banner Plan Connect Australia, which provides support coordination services, helping participants to implement all supports in their NDIS plan including informal, mainstream, community and funded supports.
Encompass also runs a 7-acre farm, The Paddock, a leader in horticultural therapy, passionate about promoting the ‘paddock to plate’ food experience. Produce at the farm are grown spray-free using organic principles. They also grow/provide seedlings to local farmers; and supply seasonal produce to local cafes/restaurants. ‘Pick Your Own’ produce days run in summer, opening the farm to the public to pick their own produce straight from the ground. In partnership with The Flying Brick Cider Co, they operate an apple cider orchard with 16 varieties of heritage apples. An exclusive Encompass cider is expected in 2019. Farm tours and sustainability workshops are conducted from time to time.
The Paddock also hosts Options and Connections’ life skills and pre-employment training programs (‘Green Thumbs’, ‘Paddock to Plate’ and ‘Paddock’); and offers work placement/experience and volunteer opportunities to people interested in or skilled at farm work.
It is a training venue for the Encompass College of Education and Training, a back-to-back finalist at the prestigious Victorian Training Awards (2016-2017).
Naomi, a single mum with 3 children says, “Encompass offers a supportive learning environment. I am in my 40s and going back to the classroom was a bit daunting. But the trainers and staff are amazing. You are guided the whole way through. They are very flexible. They encourage and believe in you. It felt like a million dollars when I received my diploma!” Encompass offers Foundation courses; and qualifications in Community Services, Retail, Hospitality/Kitchen Operations, Production Horticulture, Allied Health Assistance, Individual Support, Aged Care and Disability. They also offer free pre-employment training (Basic/Intermediate Computer, Steps to Employment, Study Skills Refresher).
Encompass is also a Disability Employment Service (DES) provider. Not only are they pioneers; they are also one of the few remaining to deliver a continuous DES contract (over 30 years now). They have placed approximately 500 jobseekers in jobs since 2010, not including nearly 100 self-employed. They support over 50 jobseekers on one-on-one appointment per day; and works closely with them to help them achieve their goals and find a job that they love. From 1st July, Encompass’ Disability Employment Service and Gforce Employment Solutions, under EGF Solutions, have combined strengths to continue delivering inclusive and diverse employment in Geelong and more service areas.
They also own and operate social enterprises that provide access to real employment opportunities and life skills in a supportive environment. They have a one-stop shop called Hub 3219 @ Apollo, where people can shop, eat, create and connect. HomeStart is a pre-loved furniture shop that upcycles/repurposes furniture. Apollo Place Op Shop sells pre-loved clothing primarily for children. 3219 Eat provides café and catering services; including meal provision as part of the NDIS scheme. A few streets away is ReadyStart a pre-loved clothing shop that is perfect for people who are ready to look good, ready to work and are ready to start again. These social enterprises also have a voucher system that provide assistance to members of the community in need.
Some volunteer-driven programs that run at these social enterprises include: Refashion Parade, a fashion parade featuring models of all abilities on the runway wearing pre-loved/re-fashioned clothing; ReadyEarth, a sewing/screenprinting group that uses unwanted clothing/bedding to create sustainable shopping bags to replace plastic; Reimagine, a project that breathes new life into items deemed as rubbish to turn them into unique pieces of homeware or furniture; and HubArt, an art group that creates pieces of art using purely recycled materials.
Encompass Community Services pride itself in being a benchmark in providing universal access, reaching over 25,000 touchpoints per year, and growing! Their success in the past 30 years is primarily due to their relentless and uncompromising pursuit of access and inclusion for all. They are not afraid to shake up the tree; because for Encompass, when a flower does not bloom, it is the environment you fix, not the flower.