Debra Story

I have a great passion for what I do which stems from my belief that everyone deserves to be included.

I work with Flourish Australia’s supported accommodation houses where I assist people with their day-to-day needs and encourage them on their journeys. I came to Australia from England as a child and in those days, having an accent meant I was alienated socially so I withdrew into myself and it wasn’t until adulthood, when I took a job in retail, that I realised I enjoyed interacting with people. I wanted to do more with that by helping others who were experiencing the pain of not being included.

I gained qualifications in Mental Health and worked my way up through the ranks of a mental health organisation to a management role where I was responsible for several houses. I later took on a role with a nursing home which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Twelve months later, I gained a position with PRA working on a Disability Support Program which won an Australia-wide award but I took a year out from my career to support a family member through a lived experience of severe anxiety and agrophobia brought on by an accident. I put all the skills I’d learned together to work through their recovery with them, setting achievable goals and encouraging them to shift their focus from their fears to their dream of pursuing a medical career. With persistence, they eventually succeeded in attaining their degree and my passion for empowering others to realise their dreams grew.

Empowering people to achieve things they never dreamed would be possible for them is what drives me. I like to think outside the square and if someone says something can’t be done, I show them they just need to find a way to make it happen for them.  It’s so valuable for people who have nowhere else to go, to be able to come here and access so many programs and develop life skills. There is still so much stigma around Mental Health that I hope in my own way I’m educating people to think differently about it.

Most rewarding for me has been my involvement in an Assisted Discharge Program with Hunter Area Health.  It’s an innovative pilot that addresses the gap in the Mental Health system between people being discharged from hospital and transitioning back home. Watching people grow in confidence and start enjoying things they once avoided altogether is what I loved the most.

I once supported someone who was in a lot of debt and had no idea what to do to change their situation. We sat down together and worked through options, then I put them in touch with Samaritans who developed a recovery plan with us. For five years I encouraged this person each time they wanted to give up, until they succeeded in freeing themselves completely from debt.

Another came to me discouraged about their progress with shedding about 50kg in weight and I said, “look, together we can do this,” and we did!

I’m a firm believer in health and fitness and Zumba is a passion of mine. I’ve taken people I support along to classes where they’ve made new friendships and continued with it.

I recently dropped back from full time to part time work so I have more time to focus on aspects of my wellbeing. I make time to get to the gym with my husband, who also works with Flourish Australia. We take walks together with our rescue dog and go to see a live band every Sunday night.  I feel I have an ideal work/life balance which allows me to fully appreciate 30 wonderful years of marriage and our three amazing children.

Working across a few different houses brings variety to what I do each day and I feel so fortunate to be supporting people to understand the NDIS. We are all still learning about it and it can be scary for some people to have to make the necessary changes but just sitting down with them and giving  them the understanding that it means they now have choice and a voice to say what they need can shift their thinking about it.  I want them to know that they can achieve their goals and that even when challenges present, there are always supports to help them through, they just have to ask.

The important thing is to start the conversation by being open and friendly.

I find a lot of joy in everything I do and I’m always trying new things – like a mud run I did recently with a colleague. We had so much fun getting absolutely filthy, I can’t wait to do it again!

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