Just over two years ago, a couple of Brisbane mates had an idea to start a charity.
It was a simple concept. Throw a washer and dryer in the back of a van and travel the city providing free laundry services to the homeless. Originally just one van doing the rounds in Brisbane, Orange Sky Laundry now services eleven locations across Australia.
Not content with simply washing clothes, Orange Sky Laundry (Orange Sky) want to do their part in assisting their friends on the street to reconnect with the community.
In the near future, Orange Sky will begin providing casual employment opportunities to their friends on the street, a number of which have disabilities or particular support requirements. As this is a new area for Orange Sky to delve into, they approached EPIC Assist (EPIC) for guidance.
EPIC CEO Bill Gamack met with Orange Sky CEO Jo Westh in December 2016 and was very impressed by her passion for helping friends in need, and could see a bright future for Orange Sky’s friends and EPIC’s participants.
“I was blown away by the similarities between Orange Sky and EPIC in terms of what we’re both trying to do. I know some of the people EPIC helps are also friends of Orange Sky; there’s definitely a synergy between our organisations,” Mr Gamack said.
From humble beginnings, Orange Sky Laundry has become a national organisation and is keen to grow further.
The co-founders, Nicholas Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, were in their early twenties when they set up their first laundry van in October 2014.
They had both volunteered with homeless services before and saw a gap that needed to be filled. What they hadn’t factored into their plans, was how long it takes to wash and dry a load of laundry.
“The boys would attest that they hadn’t done much washing themselves at the age of 20, they didn’t realise it took an hour to wash and dry clothes. So, what do you do in that hour? You talk to people,” Ms Westh said.
Orange Sky took on a second focus – conversation.
Nic and Lucas realised that their friends from the street valued conversation just as much, if not more than, having clean clothes.
They added six chairs to the van to encourage people to sit down and have a chat while their clothes and linens were washed.
From there the organisation has expanded to eleven laundry vans located Australia wide, 622 volunteers, and a shower van which was launched in Brisbane in September 2016.
Orange Sky’s next goal is to become a stepping stone back into the world of employment for their friends on the street. They’re testing this out in Brisbane first, with EPIC’s help, before taking it to all of their locations.
“Orange Sky has become much more than just laundry. It’s about connecting communities and the journey back to reconnecting with community, so the next step in our journey is trying to help people with employment,” Ms Westh said.
Ms Westh aims to make Orange Sky a “mezzanine” level of employment for their friends on the street, providing casual jobs through commercial laundry contracts.
“We want to provide a small opportunity which doesn’t create problems for people but gives them 8 or 16 hours of employment per week. They get remunerated, they start to learn different skills which help with their self-respect, self-confidence, and helps them realise: ‘Yup, I’m ready to take the next step in the journey… to re-enter the workforce permanently,’” Ms Westh said.
EPIC’s Mr Gamack, is looking forward to seeing how EPIC can assist Orange Sky to achieve their employment goals for their friends from the street.
“It was great to meet another not-for-profit who is similarly passionate to us. I think Orange Sky adopts the ‘hand up, not hand out’ philosophy, and that’s what we’re about here at EPIC too. I look forward to working out how we can continue to work with Orange Sky and continue to make a difference together.” Mr Gamack said.