Sarah from Avenue
Sarah Peddie McGuirk is a Project Manager at Fighting Chance disability charity, and runs their social enterprise Avenue. She loves a good cup of tea, watching Harry Potter a billion times, and believes tacos are the key to beating a hangover.
After completing a Bachelor of Social Science and having just returned from living in the UK, Sarah discovered Fighting Chance and thought it “looked like a pretty cool charity”; she applied for a job and was lucky enough to be hired on the spot, where she’s been for 2.5 years.
Volunteering and working with disabled people since she was 12, Sarah has always felt comfortable and empathic towards them. “I struggle to think about a life that you have no choice in, not being able to decide where you go, what you eat, people taking care of your personal care needs. I’ve always felt incredibly inspired by how positive they are, despite all that, and I’ve always been drawn to this career.”
"Avenue is about the full circle of goodness. There isn’t a link in the chain that isn’t supporting the cause."
Sarah and I met forever ago at uni. I was intimidated by her amazing luscious hair. She was intimidated by my “cool wrist paraphernalia” and we hit it off, travelling through three years of sociology subjects that extended into a lifelong friendship. I’ve always been inspired by her compassion for other people and her incredible commitment to her friends and colleagues. This is someone who doesn’t have Instagram and still writes letters to her friends overseas. She sends out paper invitations for parties and I have a collection of postcards from her travels. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is. I was lucky enough to interview her (over a cheeky Sunday champers at Coogee Pavilion) before she jets off to Africa for two months for a volunteer project.
"I hope in my role I’m able to enrich the lives of people with disabilities, and empower them to show them what they’re capable of. Because they’re capable of so much. People with disabilities have the same right as anyone else to do something they’re passionate about and interested in."
So would you like to tell everyone how you met Daniel Radcliffe?
[She laughs, a lot.] Maybe some other time… Now I just want to go home and watch Harry Potter. With a cuppa. Or a glass of wine!
Do you eat the skin of a kiwifruit?
Ew, no! No one eats the skin of a kiwifruit. It’s all furry. It’d be like eating a cat’s tongue!
by Amy Lovat
Tell me about Avenue.
Avenue is a disability fair trade store, developed to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. So the idea behind Avenue is that we buy and sell products that have been handmade by people with profound physical disabilities and people disadvantaged in developing countries. The business itself is run by a group of people with significant disabilities in Sydney and we sell online and at markets around the city.
You’re good at this.
Well I’ve been asked that question so many times!
How did it all begin?
Avenue is an initiative of Fighting Chance, which is a bigger disability charity based on northern beaches in Sydney. Its aim is to create meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We don’t take people with disabilities and slip them into existing roles, we say ‘How can we facilitate your needs? What are your interests, skills and talents?’ Then we create a job for each individual. So Avenue was born from that premise. About two years ago, our CEO Laura went to a workshop in Vietnam where all these incredible homewares had been made by people with disabilities and she knew there was a market for it in Australia.
What do you do that’s cool?
I manage the online store, as well as coordinate all the market days, shipping, distribution, managing the interns – our clients with disabilities at Fighting Chance – and as well as personal care, I run training workshops about customer service skills etc and am responsible for helping them carry out the tasks related to Avenue. So making tags, doing stocktake, painting stuff… it can get messy. The office is pretty bananas. Then I go home and have a glass of wine. I’m all about work-life balance!
What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
Seeing the guys out in the community, being positively received and supported. They grow up being stared at and pointed at and feeling like they can’t be productive members of society. Seeing their initiative and confidence growing is so rewarding. What I’ve really learned is not to underestimate what people are capable of.
What does the future of Avenue look like?
The future of Avenue is really bright. The scope is huge. It could be a global organisation. This stuff is really high quality; it’s fair trade, handmade and all using organic materials. And in terms of the people running it, giving people with disabilities these opportunities, it could be franchised out to other organisations to do their own online store and market stalls. We’ve actually trialled it, and I think we underestimated the amount of support and guidance people would need. So we're now developing a strategic plan, in terms of customer service skills, equipment, gazebos, help organising the market days and making sure they’re accessible. There’s also potential for a standalone store, which is on the cards.
Who are the coolest people you know?
People inspire me in lots of different ways. My bosses Jordan and Laura from Fighting Chance – their commitment and passion. They’ve always instilled in all of us that we are capable of doing whatever we want to do, and they support us in growing and achieving. My friend Amy is pretty cool, she’s a writer. (Editor’s note – I promise I didn’t ask her to say this!) And a woman I know, Jackie Ruddock, who runs The Social Outfit in Newtown. She was really touched by the plight of refugees so set up a business which teaches them new skills. I’m inspired by people who are committed to other people.