27 March 2024

Disability service provider Priceless Memories disco dancing its way to national small business awards

| Kellie O'Brien
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Lisa Nyrhinen Belinda Harkness

Priceless Memories owner Lisa Nyrhinen and Twinkle Entertainment’s Belinda Harkness have celebrated one year of running the disco Dance-ABILITY. Photo: Supplied.

Priceless Memories – Supported Holidays and Adventures is disco dancing its way to the Australian Small Business Champion Awards on 13 April after becoming a finalist.

Director Lisa Nyrhinen said it was the first time the two-yea-old Shellharbour business had entered an award, placing it up against 20 other businesses nationally in the Disability Support Services category.

“We’re really excited about that because they’ve thought that we’re worthy of being a finalist, so that’s pretty cool,” Lisa said.

She said Priceless Memories went beyond providing holidays, outings and adventures for people with a disability, by building life skills into all activities.

Among the activities was a popular disco for people with a disability called Dance-ABILITY, which Lisa had the vision for after clients and others were disappointed when a previous disco in Wollongong ceased operating during COVID.

She said she researched and found DJ Belinda Harkness from Twinkle Entertainment who was as passionate as she was to get a disco started, hosting their first disco a year ago.

Originally paying for a venue, she said soon after starting she was able to move it to the Albion Park Bowling Club, which provided the venue free.

“When I found that they weren’t starting up again, I was like, no, we really need this because the people of the Illawarra loved it,” she said.

“Last month was our one-year anniversary and we started with 15 participants and now most months are around 80 to 90 participants,” she said, not counting their support workers.

‘The bistro told me a couple of months ago they served 188 meals and they said there was no one much in the bistro, so it was all of our participants.”

Lisa said the disco had grown because it was sorely needed and due to it not being limited to her own clients, but rather open to all organisations and their clients to participate.

READ ALSO Walk ‘n’ Connect Fridays in Shell Cove to build stronger relationships within growing NDIS community

“It was something I felt was really needed,” she said.

“They get normality, which I think is the big thing and they’re with like-minded people.

“There’s been lots of different connections formed and it’s really cool to watch.”

Themes were introduced into discos this year, such as St Patrick’s Day and the upcoming Easter theme, along with lucky door prizes.

With the success of the disco, participants were now requesting a meet friends/date night.

“People have said that they want to do a dating night or a connection night, so I don’t want to focus too much on dating because that can be disappointing, but just more connection and friendship,” she said.

“My idea was for them to use cards with questions they can ask; we’ll have a few staff with microphones walking around, and we’ll have a bit of music for stopping and starting.

“So asking people, ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ or ‘What’s your favourite meal?’ or ‘What’s your favourite restaurant?’

“It’s everyday stuff that we think of but they don’t always necessarily think of that they can get connection from.”

Lisa said she planned to have it once every two months to add to the existing Thursday night fun and friendship group, once a month disco and regular nights out for bowling, restaurants, clubs, or theme nights at her house.

“We have a house at Shellharbour that we do day programs in, like cooking,” she said of the two-bedroom respite house.

“It’s a drop-in place too and we do a lot of one-on-one support, so if they’ve got a client and it’s rainy and they just want to go and cook a cake or make some lunch, they can go there and do that.”

READ ALSO Shellharbour TAFE’s tiny supermarket provides vital stepping stone for students with a disability

She said they had also just signed a contract on a house to allow them to open a supported independent living (SIL) house.

“Our business has grown in such a short time, and I think it’s because I’ve worked under and with people for so long that are support coordinators now,” she said of her 20 years in the industry.

“A support coordinator finds support workers and events for their clients.

“Our motto is to bring choice, kindness and respect to people with a disability.

“Our team that we have is extremely passionate about providing that and that’s why our company is so successful.”

The business, which has now become registered with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), also takes participants to the football, Luna Park, zoos, musicals, and recently, on a nine-day cruise.

“It’s them getting respite from their home and it’s also learning new skills,” she said.

“On the cruise we encouraged them to order for themselves.

“It’s about building life skills and building communication and also building self-confidence.

“We take for granted that we just order a drink or order our meal, but for them, that’s a huge thing.”

Discos are held on the first Thursday of the month, with the next being Easter themed on 4 April. The cost is $10 per participant and free for the support worker.

To learn more about Priceless Memories and its events, visit its Facebook page.

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