The Byron Shire Council's inaugural Community Awards ceremony was held at the Ocean Shores Country Club on Tuesday, 1st August, marking a momentous occasion of appreciation and recognition for nine outstanding local legends. Among the esteemed recipients was Karen Gross, whose exceptional dedication to disability support and community inclusion through the Paddock Project earned her the prestigious Access and Inclusion Award.
Celebrating the extraordinary contributions of individuals and local organisations, the awards ceremony received over 60 nominations from the community, spanning across nine categories. These nominations commended the remarkable work undertaken by both individuals and groups, highlighting their significant impact on the Byron Shire community.
Karen Gross's recognition stemmed from her commendable efforts in disability support, where she has served in the education sector and worked with Social Futures for 17 years. Recognising an opportunity to create meaningful employment prospects for local people living with disabilities, Karen embarked on the ambitious journey of establishing the Paddock Project.
"I come from a 'build the space and they will come' mindset and I found that's exactly what has happened. My biggest fear was that I would be standing in a pile of weeds with one pumpkin in my hand on my own, and that would be a failure for me, and I found that it has been an incredible hub. We've got the gorgeous coffee shop that's run by Joa, and we've got the garden, we've got a space that brings like-minded people together," expressed Karen Gross.
Thanks to Karen's visionary model, the Paddock Project now employs over 20 enthusiastic participants who are actively employed and engaged through work preparation programs. These dedicated workers contribute to many different aspects of the garden, including seed sowing and harvesting fresh produce. Karen the owner also encourages each and every one of them to pursue their own dreams and careers including creating art, developing their own products or whatever it is they want to do in life.
"The Paddock Project was an opportunity to provide a place for community, and for me, community is inclusive. That is my goal and my aim here is to give people a space to gain employment... whether that's growing vegetables, meeting other people, and having social interactions." Karen Gross shared.