ATHOL Welsh is 70 years old. For 35 years he has called Cedar Lodge home but in around six months he will move to Stevenson Street in Taree to live in a new $1 million five-bedroom group home.
Today the Minister for Disability Services, John Ajaka and member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead stood with Athol on the building site of his new home to turn the first sod of soil.
"It's going to be really good to live in a brand new home with my friends," Athol said.
Athol's friends also attended the event with about 60 people to celebrate and learn a little more about the State government commitment to Dundaloo Support Services. The property in Stevenson Street is the first stage of a $6.4 million project that will replace existing hostel accommodation on Wingham Road with five contemporary group homes in Taree, Old Bar and Wingham.
According to Mr Ajaka "this construction project marks the beginning of a new chapter for Dundaloo residents, allowing them to live life their way."
The opportunity to allow people with a disability to live life their way is an objective that drives Dundaloo Support Services CEO, Shelley Sabey. She is jubilant about the realisation of the Stevenson Street home and the others that will follow in coming months.
"We really wanted this and worked for this because it is about people having a decent place to live, a home," Ms Sabey said.
"It's not about being separated from the community, it's about being part of the community. We haven't had any issues with the neighbours and I think that is because the name of Dundaloo is respected. The neighbours have been so very supportive and we should celebrate people being their best."
Member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead said replacing small and large residential centres with homes in the community was a key priority for the State government.
"We recognise everyone wants accommodation that suits their individual requirements, which is why we have worked closely with residents to design their new homes."
Mr Bromhead earned an accolade from Ms Sabey, saying that he was "a bit of a champion for Dundaloo" - praise delivered in the wake of more than 30 years of support for Dundaloo and Valley Industries. According to Mr Bromhead, that support began when became a neighbour to Dundaloo founder, John Machin, but it was also built on a foundation of experience working with people with a disability.
"My first job was a psychiatric nurse at Parramatta Psychiatric Centre and there were 1400 patients, many of whom were there because they had disabilities," Mr Bromhead explained.
"So when you come to a community where organisations are doing the very best they can to keep people out of institutions and in the community, well you just want to help them.
"Improvements and opportunities to support people with disabilities only happen because we have people in our community who have got the vision to see that's what we need to do, and then to have a government that is prepared to back it up with funding.
"It is important to remember that we have one of the highest, if not the highest populations of people with disabilities in all of regional NSW.
"We still have need within the electorate and I'm really keen to see things happen. We have got Dundaloo that specialises in accommodation and we have got Valley Industries that specialises in services and occupations.
"I think we have two of the best in Australia, so they are the ones we should really support and make sure they get all the funding they need. I think governments should be looking to help those organisations and not have a piece-meal approach where you have other organisations coming from other areas, applying for funding and therefore fragmenting funding and the effort in the community."