Story and photos Melissa Hargraves
Local service provider Multitask opted to do things differently by celebrating its 61st birthday at the weekend, rather than a more traditional milestone.
Multitask is an award-winning disability services provider with support accommodation in Lismore, and now encompasses Grafton, Tamworth, Mullumbimby, Nimbin, Ballina, Casino and Kempsey.
The organisation began in 1952 as a branch of the Subnormal Children’s Welfare Association, which formed a school for children with intellectual disabilities, called Kayleena.
In 1968, it began providing business services to enable clients to obtain employment and develop skills. The first residential house opened in 1980.
In 1984, the organisation became known as Lismore Challenge Foundation of NSW, changing to its current name of Multitask in 2007.
CEO Graham Mapstone became involved with the disability service provider when his older brother was a client of the original organisation in the seventies.
Mr Mapstone became more involved in his brother’s care in 1999 after losing his father.
In 2004 Mr Mapstone joined the board of the organisation and became chairman for four years.
‘After that I had planned to go sailing as I was at a stage where I couldn’t really achieve what I wanted to on that level,’ he said.
‘I was invited to be the CEO for a trial period to get things on track, that was almost six years ago.’
Mr Mapstone said the day was more than just celebrating the organisation’s birthday.
He said that up until the 1980s the organisation relied heavily on the funding activities of the membership.
‘This is really about paying homage to the past and present members who have been the mainstay of the organisation for many years,’ he said.
The organisation has experienced considerable growth and financial stability.
‘It hasn’t always been financially stable,’ Mr Mapstone said. ‘There has been times when we haven’t known where the next pay cheques are coming from, but hopefully we won’t experience that ever again.’
The climate of funding to the disability sector is about to radically change across both state and federal levels. The sector is currently funded by the state government but will be transferred over to the federal government by 2018.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will allow most clients to be individually funded dependent upon their capacity.
‘Most clients will be able to choose where they spend their money and on what services… this shows huge promise and opportunities, which we hope to explore and manage the risks associated with that,’ Mr Mapstone said.
Although the NDIS will allow more choice for clients across the sector, Mr Mapstone believes that although there are many positives it may actually do the opposite for choice.
‘It is positive for individuals but it does present some level of financial risk for organisations with their financial management,’ he said.
Mr Mapstone explained that they currently receive their state government funding quarterly in advance, which buys security.
‘So we go from a situation of being sure that we have money in the bank to a situation where we have to bill and we get paid in arrears,’ he said.
The sector is unclear how the government will approach this transition process, according to Mr Mapstone.
‘This could cause cash flow problems. We are a medium-sized organisation but there are many smaller organisations that could be more affected and become squeezed out.
‘This will then limit choice, so we may end up with a relatively small number of very large organisations, which defeats the purpose of the whole process as it will limit choice. This would be a shame as there are many great small organisations in the sector.’
Mr Mapstone said the diversity in the region makes it a great place for lesser-abled people to live here.
‘There is so much diversity here that nobody is different,’ he said.
‘There are some places that there is no doubt that people with disabilities are not accepted.
‘Nimbin is a classic. We have a facility out there that at the beginning there was concern because of the number of stigmas the town has attached to it.
Independent and safe
‘I don’t think that there is a community where our clients could be more independent and safe than in the Nimbin community.’
Having previously taught children with disabilities at Wilson Park School, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell attended the celebrations and told Echonetdaily that she was able to catch up with some of her former students.
Cr Dowell said the attitude toward disability has come a long way.
‘Even the original naming of the organisation for “sub-normal” children, we would never use that terminology now, so we have come a long way,’ she said.
Multitask, alongside two other organisations, are in the running to work with Lismore City Council (LCC) with the Materials Resource Recovery Facility.
‘We will know in February, but this is an organisation that is very abled and working in the mainstream,’ said Cr Dowell.
The well attended all-day celebrations included dancing, music, circus, award presentations, yarnin’ circle and rescue demonstrations.
Tommy Franklin, aka Salty Rain Dancing Man, was part of the lineup and was well received by the audience as he chalked out a hopscotch that counted to 61.
Tommy could arguably be Australia’s most famous dancer right now with his untrained freestyle performances.
Tommy said dancing started for him with his mum and dad jumping around in the living room at home.
He told Echonetdaily that the spotlight that shines on him has given him the opportunity to bring ‘positivity into people’s lives’.
‘Let’s treat each other with kindness and goodness and stop stressing for five minutes,’ he said. ‘We don’t need to stress 24/7; we need to let our hair down and have fun,’ he said.
Tommy reflected on attitudes toward disabilities in our community.
‘We still have a long way to go, I would say, yes,’ he said.
‘I have even seen it within myself. I have seen people with certain things that I have judged them. We can be so quick to judge. But you know what? People will always judge; there will be lovers and haters – that’s a fact of life.’
Award-winning and well-loved local singer/songwriter Luke Vassella told Echonetdaily that he is humbled by the huge numbers of people in this region who spend their days in service to other people.
‘My folks met in a facility like Multitask down in Mt Wilga. They both have disabilities and were told they would never have children, but they had three,’ he said.
‘So it is special for me to be here today.’
Mr Vassella said the area has more people here who have ‘time and space to appreciate what we have. We savour the sun, the sky, the air and water, so maybe that is part of the reason we are more able to celebrate each other’s differences than those who are stuck in the rat race.’
Aboriginal dancers, Kerrieanne Cox, React Circus, Supafresh, Lismore Pipe Band and Blakboi also performed at the event.