True Stories: Amber Ericksen – Stepping out of my comfort zone

Amber Ericksen

It was my son who led me to working in the disability sector. At just two-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with high functioning autism. I needed work, so figured that given my son’s diagnosis, working in the disability sector made sense. Despite having no experience, I found a job where they were willing to give me a chance working on reception. Given my life experience with my son and his condition, when a position managing the organisation’s respite service opened up six months later, I was offered that role. For the next seven years I moved through every position possible such as running social groups, after school programs and respite for children.

Then I saw a case management position advertised at Anglicare Victoria. Although I had plenty of case management experience in my roles to date, none of them carried the title of case manager. I figured that this was a great opportunity to step up my career, so I may as well apply. I felt that there was no harm in trying, and it was better to give something a go, rather than just wonder ‘what if?’. Plus, if I’d stayed in my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I have been with Anglicare Victoria for the past 18 months as an Intake and Assessment Officer (previously known as Disability Case Manager). The ultimate aim of my role is to provide guidance and advice to people with a disability and their families. Anglicare Victoria plays a short-term role in these people’s lives, helping them by providing information, assisting them to apply for funding, or developing goals and plans with them. I am essentially clearing the clutter and confusion for these people and empowering them to develop skills and strengths so they can leave our range of services and do things independently.

There is always something new to do each day and the success stories is what makes the job so worthwhile. There’s nothing that beats being a part of a family’s success.

People fascinate me, which is one of the reasons I’m now studying to be a psychologist. After my day in the office, I head home and study in the evenings, after my family duties are done. Prior to this degree, I’ve completed a Diploma in Community Services and a Certificate IV in Disability.

I’m excited about my future once I’ve completed my psychology degree. But I’m also very excited about the future of the disability sector, especially seeing that the government is really starting to take a good look at the industry and implementing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). It’s such a positive thing and makes me think that it will result in greatly improved services for people with a disability.

Amber Ericksen
Intake and Assessment Officer
Anglicare Victoria

True Stories: Athena Kontonis – Best of both worlds

Athena KontonisMy introduction to people with disabilities was at high school. My home economics class ran a program where students from a school for people with disabilities would come to our class once a week and cook with us. I remember thinking how awesome an idea it was. From then I was interested in disabilities and teaching and learning, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. By chance, I was looking in the university courses guide at the end of my final year at school and discovered a Bachelor in Applied Science in Intellectual Disability Studies degree and thought it would be perfect.

Placements in the disability sector was a primary component of my degree. Within a month of starting the degree, I had a short placement. The following year I did a month-long placement. In my final year I had to do 12 hours a week for the entire year. Each year I selected a different speciality to do my placement in so I’d experience the spectrum of the sector. That final placement lead to my career at Oakleigh Centre Industries, the employment arm of Oakleigh Centre in Victoria.

Straight out of uni I was offered a casual position as the Production Supervisor in the supported employee program, where I assisted and taught people with disabilities work skills. After about six years in that role, I became the Quality Coordinator for Oakleigh Centre Industries, which saw me away from the supported employees and instead working in an office developing standards, policies and procedures. These days I have the best of both worlds as the Learning and Assessment Manager. My role is complex, with my responsibilities including; assessing the skills and needs of the supported employees, employees and the business and organising appropriate training as a result; overseeing and maintaining the quality management systems; managing a team; running a viable business; ensuring customers’ needs are met and managing occupational health and safety (OH&S) concerns. My role also changes, adapts and expands as the business and the industry evolves, plus it’s busy, but that’s a good thing because I love a challenge.

The best thing about my role is seeing people with disabilities achieve. Some learn new skills, some progress to such a degree that they can obtain open employment, and some love their work at Oakleigh so much they don’t want to leave! It’s true, we have some supported employees that have been here for 40 and 50 years!

I feel lucky to be where I am today. If I hadn’t stumbled upon the course in the university guide, who knows what I would’ve done. It just goes to show that you never know how incredible your future could be if you don’t take the time to consider your education and career options.

Study and change your life – and others at the same time.

Athena Kontonis
Learning and Assessment Manager
Oakleigh Centre Industries