Life Unlimited (now known as Your Way | Kia Roha) runs a unique programme for clients in Hamilton.
Hamilton’s urban Kirikiriroa marae is the five-day-a-week meeting place for a group of Your Way | Kia Roha clients, and some have been going there for almost 20 years.
They are enrolled in Ngā Mara Ātea, a cultural day programme that opened just before the turn of the century.
About 19 clients, with ranges of physical and intellectual disabilities, are exposed to a daily diet of fitness work, life skills lessons and te reo and waiata – and they also take part in marae activities.
Most are Māori, but the multi-culture nature of the programme is reflected in the presence of Pacific Island and European clients.
The programme, administered by a team of four, is unique in that it combines cultural learning with life skills.
Betty Smith leads the Life Fit programme, a fitness programme, runs twice a week and also runs a Positive Action Course there.
She is from Hamilton and her background is in residential care and supported employment for people with disabilities and she has always worked “in the field”.
“Some of our work is trial and error as we find what best suits people,” she explains.
“We have very good relations with the marae and our clients attend powhiri. This group of people are regarded as part of the marae and contribute to it.
“There is a kohanga reo on site, so clients will help at lunchtime.”
A strong culture of whānau is also evident at stakeholder events and Christmas gatherings.
“All whānau are invited, and you’ll get every member stand up and acknowledge what is being achieved here.”
She assists clients in a range of exercise activities – as the weekly schedule at Ngā Mara Ātea testified.
The days are filled with Life Fit, cooking, arts and crafts, indoor sports, outdoor games, community zumba and waiata, African drumming, badminton, basketball and hip hop. Then there are goals and personal development sessions, te reo and pepeha and full-day outings.
The programme takes clients on outings frequently.
Community manager April Johnson says the programme works.
“It’s not just about gaining cultural knowledge, it is also teaching clients to be part of a community. Some of our clients move into work experience and eventually find employment.
“When new clients arrive, we talk to whanau about setting goals, and ensuring there is support in place. It is a great thing to see how the programme impacts in such a positive way.”