Darren Man has a reputation for being a bit of a joker. But when it comes to working for one of Sydney’s leading restaurant operators, House Made Hospitality, the young Kitchen Hand takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed.
In fact, six months into his current role, Darren, who is autistic, could barely be any happier. It’s a similar story for Darren’s delighted boss, Scott Brown, who initially contacted Omnia Inclusive after seeing a segment featuring our NDIS pop-up restaurant program, ‘Lettuce Eat’, on The Project (Channel 10) in late 2022.
Six months on, Darren is flying – and so is the relationship with Scott, Carissa and the team at House Made Hospitality. “We now have two wonderful candidates working in their kitchen, and we talk all the time about any opportunities they have coming up,” says Anthony. “They’ve just opened a fabulous new restaurant at Bondi Beach and I know Scott is looking to increase the diversity in his workforce there as well, so there’s potential do many more great things together!”
Given Darren’s considerable success with House Made Hospitality, it would be easy to forget his employment journey actually began many years earlier when he was completing high school. “Darren started in our NDIS program in 2016,” says Sarah Kingwell, Youth Program Co-ordinator at Omnia Inclusive. “Back then he’d just finished school and his main barrier was probably self-belief. He’s been on a journey of continuous growth ever since, building his confidence, social and employment skills. He’s come such a long way.”
As Sarah explains, the Lettuce Eat pop-up restaurant in 2022 was a key moment in that growth. “Darren has always been interested in building his hospitality skills and he played a big role in the success of Lettuce Eat. It was a 12-week NDIS team program where we built skills around creating recipes, working in the kitchen and serving customers. Darren really took on a leadership role at the front of house, serving customers, taking orders and supporting other team members to help with their tables as well. He was fantastic!”
Today, Darren is working in a career he loves. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped striving to be even better. “Darren has an amazing willingness to learn and he still comes in on his days off,” Sarah laughs. “The main NDIS program he’s involved in right now is our independence and social program where he’s learning about things to prepare for moving out of home. He also enjoys catching up with his friends each week – building those social networks is so important for increasing self-esteem and confidence.”
One of the biggest benefits of Darren’s ongoing relationship with Omnia Inclusive has been his ability to access many different support services under the one roof. “We’re really passionate about each person’s individual journey,” says Sarah Kingwell. “The holistic programs we have mean everyone can go at their own pace. Finishing school can be pretty overwhelming, so we support people to start building their self-belief and skills even if they’re not quite ready for paid employment. They can get some experience, try different industries and find out what they’re passionate about. Then, when they’re ready, they can transition very seamlessly into our DES program – which is exactly what Darren has done.”
“For example, I work really closely with Sonya who is Darren’s Workplace Consultant and day-to-day contact at Omnia Inclusive,” Sarah adds. “We literally sit next to each other in the office. It means when the NDIS team identifies any goals, opportunities or even barriers for Darren, we can share those directly with the DES team. Not every employment provider can offer that. It makes a big difference.”
“I remember the day Darren started his new role,” reflects Anthony Workman. “I sent him a text message of support just to check how things were going. Before long, after pretty much every shift Darren would text me, really excited, telling me all the amazing types of food he was preparing – often exotic things I’d never heard of! It was great to know he was fitting in so well and enjoying things.”
“That’s the big thing about Omnia Inclusive,” Anthony continues. “We’re not just about finding someone a job. We’re about working together to make sure our candidates have the best possible chance of long-term success. It’s a partnership where we stay in touch and keep providing that support for as long as it’s needed. Just look at what Darren has achieved, the results speak for themselves.”
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