A very special milestone is being celebrated by STEPS Group Australia as it marks three decades of providing support for the Sunshine Coast community. The occasion was marked in style at the STEPS Grand Winter Ball on July 27, and My Weekly Preview connected with STEPS managing director Carmel Crouch to find out more about the organisation and where she sees it heading into the future.
Ms Crouch says from the outset, STEPS has been committed to helping people with a disability find work, as well as teaching employability skills, and working to educate employers and change perceptions about employing people with a disability.
“It was important to us that our children had the opportunity to work in mainstream employment, offering their unique skills and abilities to succeed in the role,” she says.
“STEPS still provide disability employment services and last month we were proud to be awarded the National Disability Services’ Open Employment Excellence Award for our work in helping people experiencing mental illness and addiction back into employment, and in doing so supporting their recovery.
“Today STEPS provide disability employment services Australia wide, as well as a range of training and education, and support programs that create opportunities for people to become independent and provide improved quality of life.”
Ms Crouch says several years ago, STEPS Charity was established to fund projects that “fill the gaps”, providing support to those in need where there was no support or government funding allocated.
The STEPS client base is now diverse and includes Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees and migrants, youth and long-time unemployed, people with a disability, illness or injury, and people living with autism and mental illness.
Ms Crouch says STEPS now employ 254 people around the country, including 159 on the Sunshine Coast and operates in 45 locations around Australia.
While the team, which includes 177 volunteers, has experienced many successes in the past 30 years, one most dear to Ms Crouch is the creation of the STEPS Pathways College, which is an Australian first and provides young adults with a disability the opportunity to learn the skills needed to live independently.
“The college has been a long-held dream of mine and to see it running and our first group of students successfully graduating, getting jobs and moving into their own homes is just amazing for me to watch,” Ms Crouch says.
“Probably the most poignant moment or experience has come from the support of the community to build STEPS Pathways College. Before then, I had always worked with passionate people and collaborated with like-minded organisations.
“But to have so many individuals and businesses in the community get behind this project and share in our vision for the college was really special. The generosity of the community and their passion to be a part of creating change has been quite humbling.”
The Grand Winter Ball is one of the organisation’s largest fundraisers, but Ms Crouch says there are a number of businesses and individuals who support initiatives and the college through corporate partnerships and their workplace giving programs, and the need for donations and volunteers is ongoing.
Having established an incredible service based on the Sunshine Coast that is now having a national reach, Ms Crouch says the STEPS team is driven to continue to listen to the needs of the community and find innovative solutions that “fill the gaps” in the support that’s available to those in need.
“Our commitment is to make a difference by providing opportunity and by that, we mean to continue to create opportunities that promote equality, independence, and improved quality of life for all Australians.
“In the short term we plan on expanding STEPS Pathways College to provide greater opportunities for young adults with a disability to realise their life goals.”
If you would like to learn more about volunteering or find out where to donate, visit stepsgroup.com.au/tag/sunshine-coast.