By Casey Neill
Dandenong’s Bei Nienkel started picking, packing and despatching goods as a Work for the Dole activity.
Now the 21-year-old is a paid supervisor for Picking and Warehouse Solutions (PAWS) Fulfilment in Dandenong South.
“It’s a good experience. You get to learn new things every day because it’s never the same thing,” he said.
Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan and Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams visited the warehouse space on Wednesday 12 April.
They met the PAWS team and workers from other Whitelion social enterprises Wheelly Good Coffee and fruit2work.
PAWS recruits at-risk 16 to 25-year-olds to pick, pack and despatch orders.
Supervisors receive support from trained youth workers to help each recruit to grow and gain transferrable skills.
Whitelion CEO Mark Watt said PAWS had been in Dandenong South for three and a half years, and operated from the MarkitForce warehouse.
“They were committed to helping young people as well,” he said.
“We have homeless outreach centres in Dandenong, so we’re working with the homeless kids, and we know that work and social enterprise is fantastic for homeless kids because it really gives them a hope and a future.”
Dean Pretty, 24, used to live on the street in Melbourne.
Whitelion’s Chatterbox Bus gave him comfort and support.
“They just made me feel like someone wanted to listen, because no one ever did,” he said.
The service helped him to access rehab then linked him up with Wheelly Good Coffee.
Dean now works on the fruit2work project, packing and delivering fruit from a warehouse at the Melbourne Market in Epping.
Georgina Shaw, 17, ran away from home and got caught up with drug use.
“Dean (Pretty) was one of my closest friends through that stage,” she said.
Once he’d turned his life around, he returned and offered her a job with Wheelly Good Coffee.
Georgina was “trying to change” and jumped at the opportunity.
“Having a job, giving me something to do really, really changed my life,” she said.
“It was the first ever time I’ve got money for myself.
“I’ve got a lot of training done, it’s opened a lot of opportunities for me.”
Mr Noonan said Whitelion received $2.65 million through the Jobs Victoria Employment Network program to place 240 at-risk young people into work over four years.
“We do recognise that social enterprises provide a great pathway in terms of workplace inclusion and then community inclusion beyond that, and can be a pathway back to a meaningful life,” he said.
“It’s terrifically positive work that doesn’t necessarily get the recognition it deserves.”