True Stories

True Stories: Navaya Ellis – Quality work

I’ve always had an interest in contributing to and building better societies, which is why I studied politics and sociology at university. I ended up working in journalism because I enjoyed research, writing and telling people’s stories, but found I couldn’t make the difference to society that I wanted to within the media. The care sector on the other hand gives me the ability to help ensure everyone has opportunities and a good quality of life. The other thing that’s great about the sector is that life experience really counts here – it doesn’t always come down to degrees and qualifications.

I’ve been in the sector for 15 years now and held a variety of roles in mental health and disability day programs and residential settings, and I’ve also done a lot of project work. During my time in the sector, I often didn’t know where a role or project might take me, but I always just went with it as it helped me learn and lead me to my current role.

I’ve been the Quality and Service Development Manager at On Track Community Programs for seven years now and it’s an incredibly varied position. My responsibilities include internal auditing, working with external bodies to ensure On Track is meeting the appropriate industry standards, contributing to annual reports, writing tenders, managing the quality management system (QMS), and working with the executive and staff to ensure documentation is accurate and service delivery is achieving the outcomes and needs of our clients. I also run some training sessions and mentor staff so everyone has the opportunity to continually improve.

My days are never dull. One of the reasons for this is that I don’t base myself out of head office – I don’t even have an office space there. Instead I float around as many of On Track’s sites as possible, working out of them for a few hours or days so I can stay in touch with what’s happening on the frontline. This also allows me to see first hand the positive results for our clients and to hear their success stories, which is my favourite part of working in the sector.
Navaya Ellis
Quality and Service Development Manager, CS10

True Stories: Therese Everton – Healing hands

I had two goals as an adolescent: I wanted to be a physiotherapist for children and I wanted to live in Australia. I achieved both of these things. After studying my degree in Scotland I moved out here and have been working in the care sector for 34 years. Of that time, I have been with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for the last 13 years.

What I particularly like about working as a physio in the disability sector is that people with disability have complex cases – it is not just treating one body part – so it means that through my work I can make an even bigger impact to their lives as I’m treating more than one thing.

Working as a physio in the sector means that you are part of a holistic team that supports the person; each of us with our own speciality, such as occupational therapy, speech pathology, or psychology; but all of us working towards a common goal of enabling and improving quality and enjoyment of life for the client.

The most important element of my job is education. While it is all good and well for me to provide amazing treatments for the client, I also need to be able to empower parents and carers to be able to implement treatments at home for their child. The most rewarding part of my job is when parents are excited and proud to tell me that due to my teaching them, they can see that they’ve personally made a difference to the child’s movement.

A typical day for me involves seeing four or five clients, generally at their home, school or centre, doing assessments, implementing interventions and providing treatment. Then on top of the practical, hands on work, I also have to write reports on the days sessions for doctors, families, schools and other therapists, plus I write funding applications for things like equipment and toys for patients.

I love being a physio – each case is different and I have to solve unique problems every day. I also stay interested and engaged through professional development, reading articles, and attending conferences. There is so much progress and ongoing research in the field and I am excited to be a part of that now and into the future.

Therese Everton
Physiotherapist, SPS9
Cerebral Palsy Alliance

True Stories: Sharon Tierney – Providing solutions

I had been working in recruitment for a number of years, but it got to the stage where I wasn’t getting much job satisfaction because the people I was recruiting actually didn’t need my help finding work – they were all highly experienced, professional people. Realistically, they could get jobs without my assistance.

Plus the company I was working for was purely profit based and that didn’t really align with my values. So I looked for an organisation that attracted me in terms of their values, operation and quality. The Mai-Wel Group ticked all these boxes. An added bonus was they were about helping people who needed it.

I started off as a Casual Support Officer. Three months later I secured a permanent part-time position with Mai-Wel LabourForce Solutions. Then I worked my way up to Assistant Manager, and today I am the Manager of the Cessnock and Kurri Kurri sites. Across these two sites, I manage12 staff who provide employment services for people with a disability.

We’re currently assisting over 150 people to gain meaningful, open employment. My role is all about connecting with people, building trust and relationships. I connect with staff, giving them guidance, support, supervision and encouraging job growth; I connect with business partners in the community; and I connect with our job seekers.

Since starting at Mai-Wel, I have embarked on my Masters in Disability Studies. This coupled with my original qualifications in business and marketing gives me a holistic framework to support people with disability to find work. I love what I’m learning at uni and the fact that I can instantly apply it to my work.

The hardest part of my role is that we service a regional area that is highly disadvantaged, with low levels of literacy and numeracy, high levels of unemployment, and a family cycle of unemployment and people living off welfare. But I don’t let that stop me.

Together, my team and I put in place support and interventions to support people to build skills and knowledge to change their attitude and circumstances. And that’s what I love about my job – we’re not just finding people work, we’re finding them solutions to change their lives.

Sharon Tierney
Manager, Mai-Wel LabourForce Solutions, ES9
The Mai-Wel Group

True Stories: Nada Gebara – Hard work pays off

Request - True Stories Picture Nada Gebara
I’m what my director calls a Corporate Refugee – someone who escaped the corporate world and found a haven in the care sector. For 20 years I worked in investment banking and finance. Working in that environment for so long, I had no idea that there was such a large care sector out there, because I wasn’t exposed to it in the corporate world – even though I was born with a physical disability myself, whereby I have to wear custom made boots in order to walk.

After caring for my father, who was bedridden with dementia, I decided I wanted to get away from the corporate world and working away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney find a local job. I was fortunate enough to get a contract as an Administration Support Officer with UnitingCare.

I was overwhelmed at first because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into. But before long I realised what an amazing place the sector is. I discovered that unlike the corporate environment, the care industry is all about giving, empathy, hardwork, compassion and smiles.

The skills I learnt in the private sector is helpful in the care sector. When my first contract at UnitingCare finished, it was renewed and then I secured a permanent position, working my way up from Administration Support to Administration Team Leader, and now my current role as Regional Support Officer to the Operations Manager.

My role is incredibly involved, from organising projects, events, forums, meetings, training to general office duties, as well as being part of the Person-Centred Approach team. There isn’t a set routine in my job as every day there is a different story, challenge, crisis or success, so it means I have to be flexible, calm, organised, time-manage effectively and be able to juggle things.

I love what I do and where I am today. I worked hard to get here. The best part of my role is being able to share my experience and skills with others. I also love the sense of achievement I feel when I complete a project – and there is always many of them to be working on!

Nada Gebara
Regional Support Officer to Operations Manager, CSS5

True Stories: Melanie White – Looking for growth

Request - True Stories Picture Melanie White
When I was in year 10, I did my work experience placement with a social work organisation. I enjoyed it, yet when time came around for me to start uni, I ended up starting a Science degree in Economic Geography. I didn’t like it, so saw the uni careers counsellor and with their guidance, switched to a Social Work degree. It’s funny how things work out like that.

A requirement of my degree was participating in practical placements. My second placement was with UnitingCare and from that placement I secured part-time work with the organisation while I was finishing my degree.

After my degree I was invited to apply for a position with them that focused on young children and families, and child protection, whereby I had to work creatively to solve problems, help support families, help parents be the best they can be and handled crisis intervention in a variety of environments such as personal homes and group homes.

I made the switch to the disability, still within UnitingCare, on my return from maternity leave. I discovered that the skills I developed as a social worker were transferable to disability. I’m currently the Acting Manager of UnitingCare Disability’s Flexible Options Programs, which is about service provision such as respite, living skills and skill development programs to children, young people and adults with disabilities.

As the Acting Manager, I oversee the operations of the different programs, supervise and support staff, manage projects, look after budgets, develop a good team culture, and assess operation and service models that will work well with the NDIS.

Over the years I always have looked for opportunities to learn and grow, so have done secondments to different areas in the sector such as mental health. Being open to learning has helped me progress through my career, so has inviting feedback on my performance, and taking the time to regularly self-reflect.

I have been working as the Acting Manager for a year now, and have just applied for the permanent position. It is early days for me as a manager, so I’m looking forward to learning from other leaders around me and developing further.

Melanie White
Acting Manager, M11
UnitingCare Disability