Kurrajong celebrates stellar year

Kurrajong CEO Steve Jaques with departing board member of Kurrajong Bill Howitt.

Kurrajong has had an excellent year so far, and had a presentation night of their annual report last Thursday.

“What a great year Kurrajong has had,” said Kurrajong CEO Steve Jaques. “Our annual income is up, our range of services is up, and our areas we operate in are up.”

However, the evening was about more than an airing of Kurrajong’s achievements. Mr Jaques used the evening as a means to thank Narrandera local and long-time disability advocate Bill Howitt OAM.

Mr Howitt has been on the board of Kurrajong since 2005, and he was the secretary of the board for the last nine years. Mr Howitt will retire from his role on the board, and Mr Jaques took the opportunity to thank Mr Howitt, and Mr Howitt’s wife Fae for their hard work, immense energy and support.

“It all began in 1977 when he became active in the Cypress Centre Committee. Bill’s been a passionate advocate for services in the community ever since. Bill has been involved in church groups, sporting groups, community groups – it would be difficult to find an organisation in town that Bill hasn’t had some involvement in.”

Mr Howitt was the driving force behind the recent opening of four assisted living units in Narrandera. Dismayed at the lack of services and worried at the prospect of people with a disability having no choice but to leave their own communities for help and accommodation, Mr Howitt was determined that there would be a means for people with disabilities to live in the community.

“That was the beginning of ‘the battle of the bureaucracy’,” Mr Jaques said.

The Friends of Cypress organised meetings with cabinet ministers, bureau-crats, local members, and the offices of ADHD.

“In Mr Howitt’s own words, they haunted them. Many local fundraisers were held, and eventually the government approved the funding.”

When the funding was approved, Kurrajong agreed to make up the gap in the funding and take over management of the project, and the units were opened at the end of September.

Mr Jaques finished his speech with the presentation of a vase of flowers for Mrs Howitt, whose support and energy has been invaluable to the long-running project.

In addition to the presentation, there was also a break-down of the treasurer’s report, and Mr Jaques gave a fascinating insight into the rapidly changing allied health service.

“Kurrajong is in good financial shape. Our total revenue for the year was $30.5m,” said Mr Jaques.

Of that funding, 69 per cent came from government funding. Other revenue came from the social enterprises which Kurrajong runs to provide employment for people with a disability, along with donations and bequests.

Revenue was up by 15 per cent, while expenditure grew 14 per cent.

“That was spent on staff in the community. Our staff live here. We ended up with a surplus of $1.6m.”

“With the roll-out of the NDIS, the disability service provider sector is in the middle of a huge overhaul. With the roll-out of the NDIS, the number of people accessing disability services will leap from roughly 78,000 people to 142,000 people in 2019.

“Such growth is the response to a huge amount of unmet need,” Mr Jaques said. “The disability service workforce will need to grow by 15 per cent every year for the next four years to meet that need.

“The NDIS, despite being here for a year, is still a bit like a plane being built while it’s flying. There will be changes that happen as we go.

“Have a look at what’s going to happen in the disability sector. That historical framework is changing. As we enter this new NDIS we’re taking the view that Kurrajong is a 60 year old start-up company,” Mr Jaques said.

The new model for NDIS funding will mean that customers can receive funding and then choose their own providers. In order to survive and thrive in this new environment, Kurrajong has had to brand and market themselves, hiring Marketing and Communications Manager Mathew Bertram.

“He’s got responsibility for our new brand, our new look and our new website,” Mr Jaques said.

Judging by the results of the past financial year, the new approach is working.

“We’re already seeing new NDIS customers turn up. We’re also seeing people come back to Kurrajong. Families, when they’re getting their NDIS funding are coming back to Kurrajong. In the past, certain kinds of disability support were unable to be funded when children reached a certain age. People who had aged out of certain programs are now coming back to Kurrajong to access services again.

“I know it’s only early days, but I am very impressed with our staff and managers during this rollout,” Mr Jaques said.

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