In Oren’s corner
Around 7.30 each morning, Oren Tibble opens up the 911 Coffee cart business outside his home on Ormond Road.
He sets up the table and chairs. If it's not too busy he makes coffee, serves at the till, chats with customers and knows some regular orders by heart.
After about an hour Oren then does something else. His attention span is short.
Yesterday, April 2, was World Autism Awareness Day and Oren is one of hundreds of people in this region who have autism.
This coffee business is about making sure Oren feels like a functional person in society.
And later this month, Oren is off to the Halberg Games in Auckland to play wheelchair basketball and athletics.
Aimee Lloyd, 38, has been Oren's foster mum since he was 13 years old.
They run the old ambulance full of beans with Aimee as head barista and boss to ensure there is routine, structure and purpose to each day for Oren.
About nine years ago Aimee went on a camp with 54 special needs children. She has worked in the area of special needs since she was 16 years old. On this camp was Oren.
“He was cool,” she says.
Aimee put up her hand that if Oren's foster situation changed, to let her know.Coincidentally, nine months later, it did change.
Within a week Aimee moved home to Gisborne, from Wairoa, and bought a house for herself and Oren. Since then her Mum moved from Wairoa as well, and Aimee bought a bigger house so Oren can have his own “wing”.
He is 22 next week, and has a job, so needs his own space. There's a bedroom and his own lounge area complete with drum kit.
But often you'll find Oren sitting outside in one of the cars parked out the back. He loves everything about cars — street stock ones especially. Oren loves fire trucks, police cars and ambulances too, which is why when an ambulance became available you could make coffee out of, it was “perfect”.
Looking back, Aimee says she did think, “what have I done?” when Oren first moved in.
“Yes, he has autism, but what is autism?”
The biggest challenge is communication.
“He can't tell you when he's sick. He can't verbalise how he's feeling. It takes a long time to figure out a person with autism.
“You have to learn their ways, and you have to go into their world. Because their world is not our world.”
Aimee says despite it being “routine, routine,” every day, no two days are ever the same.
“One day this will work (with Oren). Then the next day it won't.”
Aimee says she had no idea what she was getting herself into nine years ago. But wouldn't change a thing.
“I will battle whoever I have to in the world for Oren.”
He is hard work, but he is family and Aimee will never give up.
“Why give up on somebody. Oren needs somebody in his corner. Just give those with special needs a chance. They're human. They can teach you so much. Patience, and how to have simple fun.”
Oren was able to attend school until he was 21 years old, and went to Campion College.
“Campion was amazing for people with special needs I'd just like to add,” says Aimee.
But as Oren approached 21, with the school routine about to go, Aimee's thoughts turned to, “What am I going to do? There's nothing for Oren here, for people like Oren.”
And Aimee knows hundreds of them around Gisborne — often hiding in corners. She was scared Oren would end up at home with nothing to do.
Then lockdown hit, and they were all at home with nothing to do. But from that space came the great idea. A coffee business — it would give Oren routine, a purpose to each day, social interaction with people — and home is right behind him if he needs to chill out for a bit.
So when lockdown lifted, 911 Coffee appeared roadside across from Mangapapa Garage on Ormond Road. It's a growing business with free delivery and a car recently added to the 911 fleet.
Every day there are inbuilt structures. Around 9.30 on week day mornings there are services that help, with someone who picks up Oren for the gym, or kapa haka class.
But some days “the switches don't connect” inside him, is how it is described.
Each day's behaviour is dependent on a good night's sleep. Oren needs 10 hours a night.
“Oren's not the only one in the world like this,” says Aimee.
“There are others like him who can contribute to the world. They said he'd never use a knife and fork. A persevering caregiver before me made sure he could.
“He would never walk on grass, and he does now with encouragement.”
Oren has high sensory needs, and Aimee says they could go on forever about the unique challenges someone with autism brings to a family.
“If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.”
They are all so unique. Embracing their qualities as part of our community teaches us all.