Roller skate disco on Friday night. Sydney Aquarium visit on Saturday. Escape room on Sunday. I was pretty jealous of Bronte Hendricks’ weekend plans when we spoke last week.
Bronte is the co-founder and director of Stellar Experiences, which provides supported social outings and travel experiences to 18-35 year olds with mild to moderate disabilities.
Guests can guarantee that whatever they do, whether it is jumping out of a plane, attending a Music Festival or simply going out for drinks, they’re going to have a lot of fun.
“What we do at Stellar is anything that any young adult wants to do,” says Bronte. “We try to put no limitations on what our guests want to do or want to achieve. We just have so much fun and get out there into the community.”
How did Stellar Experiences begin?
Given its variety of experiences already on offer and its ever-growing community of participants, it is impressive that Bronte and her business partner, Luke Muttdon, only started Stellar Experiences a year ago. The pair met working at a local disability service, in a Transition to Work program for young adults who were 18 to 20.
“We loved our jobs, but we were just so frustrated every day by the lack of opportunities there were for this group of young people to access the community,” says Bronte.
“We found they were just so socially isolated. I’m only 23 myself, so I guess I was comparing myself to them, and I couldn’t comprehend why my life was any different. They had the same interests and passions as anyone else, but were falling between that gap.”
Bronte and Luke found that for the specific group they target – guests with mild to moderate disabilities – services providing social outings were lacking.
“That’s when we thought, ‘maybe we’ve got to do it ourselves,’ and here we are!” says Bronte.
Who can get involved with Stellar?
Some of the guests in the Stellar Experiences crew are on the autism spectrum; others have intellectual disabilities, mental health conditions, or Down Syndrome. Stellar has a guest with spina bifida and another who uses a wheelchair.
“We have quite a range [of guests],” says Bronte, “but we say ‘mild to moderate’ because we support on a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5.”
Stellar now operates with five or six support workers, and, prior to COVID-19 restrictions, a great group of volunteers.
“All of our support workers and staff are in the same age group as our guests,” says Bronte, “so that they don’t feel like they’re out with a carer. They’re out with another young adult who is supporting them but still having fun.”
What sort of activities does Stellar run?
“We do anything and everything,” Bronte summarises. “We do day trips and nights out and weekends away and travel.”
Generally, guests suggest activities they’d like to do on outings. Recently, that included one guest who wanted to go skydiving and ended up being joined by seven other Stellar guests.
“We haven’t had any situation that we haven’t been able to do. One of the guests who went skydiving, he’s in a wheelchair… We took him down a few days before the skydiving, met with the people and checked that it was all going to be all good. We’re willing to make it work in whatever capacity we can.”
Despite the skydiving trip, a recent helicopter flight around Sydney and an upcoming Harbour Bridge Climb, Bronte assures me a Stellar day out is not always so adrenaline-fuelled.
“Anything that we do – going to the movies, going to the beach – we really focus on the social aspect. For a lot of our guests it is the first time they’ve had this big friendship network.”
Getaways with Stellar Experiences
Weekend getaways also feature often on the Stellar calendar. Coming soon, for example, is a group trip to Mudgee, a boys’ trip to the Central Coast and a girls’ trip to Jervis Bay.
“We took a group to Byron Bay a few weeks ago,” says Bronte. “They loved it. Everyone went surfing, it was beautiful weather. We did the hike to the lighthouse.”
These group trips can be a great learning experience.
“We really try to focus on independent living skills when we’re away,” says Bronte. “We always focus on budgeting and grocery shipping, and do big cook-ups all together to try and get everyone involved in some capacity in the kitchen or cleaning up.”
Bronte is most proud when she can see her guests “overcoming the challenges associated with going away or doing something new for the first time.”
“So many of our guests now are a lot more confident with themselves and interacting with others,” she says.
The next step is heading further afield. In fact, Stellar just managed to squeeze in its first international experiences before the pandemic hit.
“At the start of the year, before everything happened, we went on a week’s cruise to the South Pacific Islands,” says Bronte. “That was really cool. We took a group of 8 guests. We also took a group to Queenstown, New Zealand.”
How do you go about joining in?
For starters, Bronte recommends checking out the Stellar Instagram and Facebook pages for a “clear depiction of how much fun everyone’s having.”
She says anyone interested in joining can reach out to Stellar through Facebook, email or phone call.
“We normally just have a chat about what we do and what they would want to get out of a Stellar experience. The sign-up process is really easy.”
Guests fill out an online experience application form, which helps identify support needs. Most of the time, Bronte says, those needs can be accommodated. Then, Stellar will start sending the guest information about upcoming experiences.
Every experience has an ‘out of pocket cost’ and an NDIS-related cost, Bronte explains. The out-of-pocket cost is simply the cost of the ticket or experience itself. The NDIS cost covers the support provided on the day. At a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5, it is more affordable than a 1:1 experience.
To anyone considering an experience, Bronte urges them to “dive in and give it a go.”
“Everyone at Stellar is just so welcoming. All of our guests make everyone feel so comfortable.”
Stellar Experiences runs outings mainly in Sydney, with some new experiences on the Gold Coast. Weekends away and regional trips happen further afield.
Visit the Stellar Experiences website here: https://stellarexperiences.com.au/