By Rachel Williams
Navigating your way from dreaming about your desired job to realising that goal can be a struggle for anyone. For many people with a disability, matching your skill sets with society’s employment expectations can make the journey even more challenging.
Sometimes you have to lay the path in front of you because it’s never been done before.
That’s the case with two businesses who are helping clients with a disability create their own positive futures, proving that with a little bit of assistance, you can set yourself up for an exciting career.
Marlene Hoff owns and operates Victorian catering and cooking school business 100 Mile Foodie, which focusses on local food and wine sourced from within 100miles (160kms) – an initiative started with the environment and reducing carbon emissions in mind.
Five years after starting operations, Marlene was approached by Lara Watkins, a mother with a hearing-impaired child living with autism and an identity disorder.
The meeting between Marlene and Amelia Watkins would be the beginning of a business niche for both parties.
“Amelia’s mum contacted me in 2018 and asked me to teach her daughter to cook and gain some independence in the kitchen,” recalls Marlene.
“I am a chef, hospitality trainer and have taught cooking from prep-Year 12 students, plus adults in many settings including TAFE, but I hadn’t worked with clients living with a disability – Amelia was my first.”
Marlene must have done something right! Amelia has quickly gone from kitchen novice to cookie queen – establishing Amelia’s Cookie Co.
“One week we baked my favourite cafe treat – the Smartie cookie,” recalls Amelia.
“Marlene suggested I try to sell them. Everyone loved them so I started to try different varieties. My yo-yos are super popular!”
The 17-year-old takes one day off school each week to focus on her enterprise and is beyond proud of the sweet success she has been able to achieve.
“My business entails having one day off school per week cooking with the assistance of support workers in a registered kitchen to meet the orders for members of the public, my mum’s workmates and basketball stadiums on the Mornington Peninsula,” Amelia explains.
“My most consistent supporter, even with five COVID closures with Melbourne lockdowns, has been a cafe in Tyabb called The Hungry Peacock.”
There were some initial challenges with an NDIS review to gain enough funding to support her career pathway.
“Having a disability, I couldn’t get a regular after school job like my peers,” Amelia says.
“My brother worked at Woollies whilst he was at school. I would need a support worker or my parents to attend work with me to be able to have a part-time after- school job.
“My mother canvassed NDIS to gain funding for support workers to assist with my goal of having an after-school job.
“I can’t wait to finish school and start working more next year.”
That experience guides her advice for anyone wishing to start their own business enterprise.
“Keep trying and don’t feel scared to dream big – challenge mainstream services and also the NDIS if your needs or goals are not being met,” she says.
While Amelia is thriving, Marlene has embraced the new business opportunity too. She now helps many clients with an NDIS plan – encouraging the development of independent living skills by teaching participants about nutritious food choices with a hands-on approach.
“We work on improving skills surrounding food preparation, meal planning, meal prepping and meal storage, all while experiencing new flavours, new recipes, cooking and the enjoyment of food,” Marlene says.
“Learning each client’s specific needs and choices can take time as each person is different and we want to make a huge difference in their lives immediately but we have learnt that everything takes time and patience and we hope our clients stay with us for many, many years, so we don’t need to rush.
“To be a part of our clients lives helping them achieve independence is an amazing privilege.
“I feel like this new career of mine chose me – as Confucius says ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’.”
Find out more at 100milefoodie.com.au
Zebedee Talent have recently arrived in Australia from the UK to enhance the representation of people with a disability in the media.
Zebedee Talent was co-founded by Zoe Proctor, a plus-size model who also runs a performing arts academy for disabled people, and Laura Johnson, a former mental health social worker. “Our co-founders and directors were walking along the beach together one evening when they decided they had had enough of the lack of representation in the media for those with disabilities,” explains Zebedee Talent Press Manager and Booker, Alice Winsor.
“They decided their skills would blend together well enough to give opening their own agency exclusively for those with disabilities a go. Since then, we have expanded our horizons to also include those with visible differences, transgender people and non-binary people.
“At Zebedee we are curating change in the industry by pushing disabled and different models to the table. Our work has impacted the industry tremendously, and has resulted in a whole lot more opportunities in the media for those with disabilities and differences. However, we do not directly create opportunities. Casting directors, brands and media companies do this.
“Those with disabilities are capable of modelling and acting brilliantly, they just need the appropriate representation to get them to the available opportunities. It is important to us that our talents are empowered by their work, as they know they are part of the change that is needed in the industry.”
The agency launched an office in Australia in March and is working hard to increase its talent base from its current number of 43. It’s already fielding multiple audition requests for brands such as Target, Woolworths, Coles, Westfield and Disney, and has some roles booked on an upcoming Netflix series as well as a range of advertising campaigns.
Applications for interested people are available online.
“There are no other agencies like us in Australia, so we have been picking up traction with the number of talent on our books increasing weekly,” Alice says.
“We want to continue this growth curve in Australia and make ourselves available in the entire country.”
The business has been successful across the UK.
“Ellie Goldstein, who is from Essex, has been a real shining star at the agency. Ellie digitally covered the UK-based Glamour Magazine earlier this year, which was a major deal for us. Ellie has been the face of many of our ‘firsts’ including plenty of magazine covers,” Alice says.
“We have also had a really lovely relationship with Primark, who have used many of our child models, including Willow Welbourne and Elijah Enwerem. Seeing their faces on huge posters in stores has been so gratifying.
“Outside of the modelling world, we have had great success in the realm of acting. We have a soon-to-be Disney star, as well as a soon-to-be Netflix star under our belts.
“In the beginning, we had to find our feet and learn the ropes of the industry. Once we did this, we had to work hard to become a name which would always come to casting directors’ minds when in the process of casting. Being an initial thought rather than an afterthought is something we are still working to achieve.”
To find out more and apply visit zebedeemanagement.co.uk