Our services cater for all stages of life, and include quality early childhood education and care; services for vulnerable families, children and young people; disability programs and aged care.
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I guess I just always had this passion to work with children. It’s always been there. There’s a strong nursing background in my family, so I suppose I was influenced from a young age to want to help people where I could. That’s why I was drawn to Uniting, my workmates share my values and I strongly support my philosophy of being innovative to deliver a service.
At Uniting it’s about being person-centred, we’re not stuck in a mould; we can be creative. There’s also a strong family connection with my work here, as my mum works for Uniting, so does my sister-in-law and her mother. We’re a Uniting based family and I guess that means we’re a pretty positive bunch.
My clients and their families give me as much as I give them. Recently I was really moved by seven-year-old Joshua, who lives in Balgowlah with his parents and little sister. He has a genetic, chromosomal condition and affects both his communication and motor skills. When stressed or unhappy he would engage in some self-stimulating behaviour, for example biting down on his arm causing blisters, or rocking. The family sought help in managing these behaviours and the challenge was to somehow connect little Joshua with his world, and help him cope, hopefully improving the family relationship as a result.
Some people might say, oh my goodness, where do you even start? For me, working with children with disability and their families is about being a partner. It’s about listening, being empathetic. I truly believe that given the capacity, every family has strengths and every family can progress.
The first thing I saw was this huge, beaming smile. On paper, I was told he couldn’t communicate but when I got there I saw that some of his behaviour was quite intentional and I was able to pick up on some of his non-verbal cues. After a while, I worked out that Joshua’s low play skills meant he was often bored. His eyes would light up at hearing music, however, and I used that to move forward. For example, we’d sing nursery rhymes or play ring-around-the-rosey with his cousins and he loved it.
I created a chart for his mother to use to encourage interaction and play, and what was amazing was that Joshua’s younger sister loved to be involved, excitedly telling me each time Joshua progressed with his play. Over time there was such a huge improvement with Joshua, and when he was interacting and playing, his mouthing behaviour was substantially reduced.
I love what I do. I one of those lucky people who’s able to go home to my family every night and say that I really, really love what I am doing. I love learning about what I am doing, and I just working with the people I work with, which I think it’s a rarity.
Life skills supporter
Six years ago I went for an interview with Uniting and I’m still here. I really wasn’t planning on going into this kind of work, because I was doing retail management, but I got the job, started, and fell in love. I love working with the people there; I love supporting the clients at Uniting as well.
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I went back to uni a couple of years ago to become a nurse, but I soon realised that this is where my heart is; to be in disability, so I put the nursing on hold. My younger brother has a very mild intellectual disability and a lot of behavioural issues. That kind of prepared me for working with vulnerable people.
Recently, I was paired with Lachlan, who’s in his mid-thirties and has had an intellectual disability from birth. He was having some social anxiety issues and the plan was to work on skill building with transport and shopping, attending medical appointments, and so on. In the beginning, he was kind of withdrawn, not wanting to go out alone, not looking after himself properly – his personal care and hygiene were pretty poor.
We started with small activities: going shopping, building up the things we were doing. It took a while, but together Lachlan and I worked on his skills and he’s so much happier. He’s showering independently, his room is tidier, no more hoarding food scraps. Lachlan’s also on top of his medical appointments now, he’ll take the bus independently to access his day programs, he’ll go to the shops to buy milk now, those sorts of things.
What’s surprising is how well we get on. Lachlan’s quite quick-witted and loves music – this death metal music. We’re chalk and cheese to look at. He wears black from head to toe, prefers long hair, that heavy metal image. So we are worlds apart in some ways, but get on like lifelong mates. I look forward to going to work with him and he tells me that he enjoys me coming as well. It makes me feel pretty proud that I’ve had that kind of impact on someone’s life.
I see my future with Uniting. I certainly have no plans on leaving. There’s plenty of room to grow; many streams and sections to go into, so it’s where I see myself for many more years.
I’ve seen a lot. I’ve run several businesses, trained as a nurse, received a Masters in Aged Care and I’ve been made redundant twice. That’s what makes Uniting special, they saw past my age. When you look at me, it’s clear I’m not 21, or even 41. Finding work at my age was a huge hurdle to overcome.
A company didn’t look at my experience and what I could offer, all they saw was my age. They were looking for how long you could work for. Uniting was different; the people weren’t focused on any of that. It was about my approach, my background, how my life relates to the work. Like everything Uniting does, careful thought went into the process. Now, 18 months later, I’ve made good friends; great friends, in fact.
I’ve worked at several different locations but no matter where I am, I find the work life balance suits me. I’m working in the NDIS world, which means I often visit my participants after hours and I stagger my work day to suit them. That’s not a problem, I’m happy to fit in with the needs of our customers. Most of them touch my heart. Although we are supposed to keep an emotional distance, they get in there a little bit. You can’t help that, not in this job.
I remember one family with an Irish dad and a Japanese mum. They had three children between 10 and 14, the youngest two with autism, and we were working to keep the family together, which is really important work. John, at eight, was high on the autism spectrum and needed lots of supports. It was sometimes a violent household, because John didn’t know how to manage his emotions - lots of hitting, yelling and screaming. That’s where Uniting came in. We introduced therapists to spend time with him, daily at first, and then less often, as John’s interactions improved.
Interestingly, when we gave John a computer tablet to try and manage some of his challenging behaviours, it was amazing how things changed. Previously there was no way for him to properly express his feelings, but thanks to the programs on his tablet, he could channel his feelings into his games, instead of expressing them in other ways. This strategy worked at school too, which was fantastic.
I noticed that Jessica, the older sister, was struggling too. It was tough being an ordinary teenage girl in a not-so-ordinary family. She was given the opportunity to meet other siblings like her at a weekend camp. This had a huge impact on the way she viewed her brothers, and her attitude to John in particular was transformed.
In the past, when the family went out, only half the family went out. However John’s behaviour improved so dramatically they could now integrate in their community, enjoying time together as a complete family unit. Money was an issue, and we were able to organise an annual pass for the zoo and aquarium, and tickets to the movies. The more the family were able to do together without conflict, the closer they became.
The result of our work meant that John was able to remain at home, and today, with continuing support, they’re united as a family unit, which I feel is an incredible achievement. It’s not only the life of the person with the disability that we support, but the lives of the whole family. It’s about everyone involved growing too, both inside and outside the family.
My own family is made up of two children. One has given me two grandchildren, six-year-old twins, and I love to spend time with them when I’m not working. The other has given me a fish and two cats, and that’s fine too. I used to live on a boat and was probably the only person working in Sydney who needed to check the tide chart to get home, but now home is snuggled amongst five acres of native plants in the middle of the bush. When you turn off the lights you don’t see anything, which makes for wonderful nights of rest. Night and day, I’m pretty satisfied.
I came to Australia 17 years ago from Poland and my background isn’t with disability, because back then we didn’t have the range of disability services that Australia and Uniting now offer. When I was finishing my degree I volunteered at a special school and found I loved working with the families; being involved and working for change.
My first job was as a social advocate for interaction, and from there I moved to Uniting, working to support people with disability. It’s wonderful to be able to use my skills and make an impact on the lives of the people I see. In one instance a lady called Rachel was refusing the help of other providers because she felt that they weren’t listening to her. However there was some concern about her son’s welfare, and it was important we connected with her. By paying special attention to her, and working with her rather than simply telling her what I thought she should do, we managed to move forward. Rachel’s son Hughie has autism and is non-verbal, and having gained Rachel’s trust, we were able to find appropriate supports for the whole family. These covered counselling and taking her to medical appointments, dealing with home repairs and housing issues, and assistance with Hughie’s school when needed. She also asked us to work with her on her NDIS plan.
The family has been with Uniting for a year and Rachel recently told me how grateful she was for the support she’s received. For the first time since she’d had Hughie, she felt someone was listening and helping the family from, in her words, “beginning to end”. In fact, she even rang up to insist that she receive support coordination for us to continue working with her under the NDIS because she couldn’t cope without us. She said, “I want Uniting to continue this service for my family because they are really good and I don’t want anyone else.” And she got it. To have a client fight for you is amazing.
Uniting gives me the scope to work with people in this way. It’s a really good organisation; they provide lots of opportunities to grow if you want to change roles, and it’s very family oriented. When my mum in Poland became ill, they were very supportive. I know they are there for me like I am for my clients.
In my years with Uniting I’ve had a number of different roles. I really enjoy working in case management, supporting people to set goals and helping to deliver different services. It’s an exciting time to be working in the disability sector, there are big changes with the introduction of the NDIS and at the moment I assist people with their NDIS plans.
My role as an options specialist is an important one, as I work with people with disability to formulate a plan to reach their goals.
By now I thought I’d be working in the music industry, doing sound and lighting perhaps and I started off on that path, but somehow my work supporting people with disabilities drew me in and I haven’t looked back.
I’ve worked in lots of different roles, and each job has its little miracles. I love learning about people; there are so many really interesting stories. I love being able to help people with ideas for how they’d like their lives or to move forward, and to achieve some better situations for their family members. Just hearing their stories is humbling, as is being able to be a part of their important next steps.
A lady called Aimee springs to mind. After suffering a stroke, she’d spent a long six years in hospital, but when she was finally healthy enough to leave, she didn’t have a home to go to, or anyone to help her make the transition back to normal life. The doctors wanted to make sure that she’d be safe and supported, but for Aimee, it was more than just a desire to leave hospital. Aimee wanted to be able to have her children visit, to see old friends, to be able to make her own decisions. I provided relocation assistance in what was an emotional and challenging time for her. Aimee was in her 40s, and it was really special watching her visit her new house and pick out all her own furniture. Life hadn’t treated Aimee all that well, she had a mental health diagnosis as well as a stroke, which meant that basic tasks such as preparing vegetables or opening a bottle were difficult.
There’s a lot to consider in a situation such as Aimee’s. Housing had to be in the area that she was familiar with and where her community was. Local connections had to be close-by too, the church, doctors and specialist. And of course, we had to check that the right team was in place to work with Aimee as she reconnected with her old life.
We organised a lot of different people to all come together and help her move home and on the day she finally walked out of that hospital I could see the appreciation in her smiles. I can’t recall the exact words but she was very thankful, thanking us over and over again as she celebrated her return to her community.
Aimee’s situation is a lot like working with Uniting, it’s a really supportive organisation. There are truly wonderful people working here, and at the heart of the work we do are vulnerable people who are able to make big changes and we never forget them. Everyone works for the same goal.
Back in 2008 I was speaking to a friend of mine who was working at Uniting, and she were telling me how positive the organisation was, and about the family friendly atmosphere they provide. Uniting had a good reputation within the community too, which was important, because coming here was about making a choice for the long term.
I’ve always wanted to help people. I have a few aspirations; there’s a creative side to me, I sing; I’m pretty diverse. But behind that is a passion to help people – my heart is very big, everyone says that. In high school I would often spend part of my lunchtime sitting and talking with students with a disability.
I’ve just been made a support coordinator with the NDIS. Prior to that I was a case worker in extended family support, and the work is very similar. We consult with families, or the person with disability, to see what their goals are; see if they are matching their plan; see if they’ve used any services in the past that they want to continue with. We see what hours they want, what needs they have, and then we check in with them to make sure that they’re happy with the services, and if they’re not happy, then we advocate to fix things.
One of my current clients is a 16-year-old boy called Ronnie. He’s vision impaired, so he can see out of one eye but not the other. Two years ago he moved to Australia with his parents and at first I didn’t know much about him, only that his family needed interpreting services; that he may not engage; that he was very shy and withdrawn and needed to seek counselling. When I met him for the first time I introduced myself, gave him my business card said “Please contact me if you need any help.” And he actually initiated contact, which was really surprising, because he’s a shy boy and doesn’t usually do that but he felt that I cared.
Ronnie’s not very confidant, that’s the hardest part. He gets bullied at school because for being different. To me, he is the sweetest young boy if you give him a chance – a real young gentleman. To build his self-esteem I’m helping him to volunteer at the local Youth Festival. It’s hard, because he’s very shy but I’m encouraging him to bring his cousin with him. I told him I’ll be there too. It’s on the weekend but I’ll still make sure I’m there. The next step is a tax-file number, and finding him proper part-time work. That would be a huge step for him.
It’s not just a job where you just register and you go home when it’s five. I treat people how I would want to be treated, I guess like a friend, the way you would help your family or a friend. I’ve got families who still I’m close with; that still want to keep in touch; that want to come back to Uniting.
When I’m not working I really enjoy shopping, movies, watching MTV. I love water: swimming, showers, baths, it’s so relaxing, and animals. I have cats, too many cats. I can’t give them away because I don’t believe in animals being put down, so if I can help them I do. I can’t help it; I can’t hurt anyone.
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