Our Mates Place manager Damien Watson, co-ordinator Laura Nebauer and Unique Directions director Wendy Cherry.
Our Mates Place manager Damien Watson, co-ordinator Laura Nebauer and Unique Directions director Wendy Cherry.

Life-changing new disability centre to open

WENDY Cherry's voice catches when she started to talk about her son's future without her.

At 23, Tom Sangwine can only communicate via an app on his phone due to his autism and intellectual disability.

The Glenella resident said ever since her son left high school there had been barriers in his path - from finding a job to seeing friends and meeting new people.

While Mr Sangwine has two siblings, Mrs Cherry said she hoped he could become independent.

"I'm going to die one day and I didn't want my kids to feel obligated to look after Tom," Mrs Cherry said.

"I want them to have a normal life experience, where they can hang out with Tom - not be his carer"

"I'm just a mother wanting the best for her kid."

Her determination to provide her son with life skills - in a safe environment - has transformed an empty industrial space on East Gordon St into a new community hub for people with disabilities.



Five months of work has been leading up to Saturday, November 23, when Our Mates Place will open to the public.

"I feel I've just given birth to a new baby," Mrs Cherry joked.

"It's going to change lives."

Mrs Cherry said the Unique Directions centre would break down the isolation of people with disabilities, while equipping them with employable skills.

"We find there is a real lack of employer contact. Employers are reluctant to hire a person with a disability"

"(But) people with a disability have a lot of abilities"

"We're here to make the Mackay community understand we're all human - we've all got something to give."

For the past six weeks Alysto Construction's Lynda O'Keeffe and Steven O'Keeffe have donated their time and expertise to help build the centre.

The Bucasia residents said they wanted to help people like their daughter Tegan O'Keeffe, 26, who has Down syndrome.

"There's nothing (in Mackay) for adults who want to be treated like adults not children," Ms O'Keeffe said.

On Saturday visitors can explore the centre's industrial kitchen, woodworking space, health and beauty centre, games room, karaoke room, IT centre, dining and relaxation spaces and the accessible toilets and changing room.

Our Mates Place opening day runs from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, November 23 at suite 3/42 East Gordon Street, Mackay.

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