The first thing you notice about Harry when you meet him is his warm smile and his vibrant energy. Harry is twenty-one years old and is currently working as a supported employee with OC Connections Enterprises in the packing department.
Harry wasn’t always this self-assured, but since 2019 he has gone on an adventure of learning; developing skills, making friends, and achieving more than Harry’s mum Lou could ever dream of!
Harry and Lou sat down with us recently to share their inspiring story.
Going beyond school…
In late 2019 after Harry completed his secondary schooling, Lou was seeking a service provider that could help him transition from school. She wasn’t sure Harry could handle employment due to Harry’s challenges, including him being non-verbal. However, after multiple conversations with the Transition Coordinator at Harry’s school, Lou was made aware that Harry had a number of options available to him, such as Day Support and the School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) program.
SLES is a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funded support. It’s designed to assist young people to find meaningful employment once they leave school by building their skills, independence, and confidence.
The OC Connections SLES program, Towards Employment, goes deeper than simply providing a young adult with job ready skills. It’s about building their capacity to live an independent life. The supports are tailored to the individual’s situation, their needs, and employment goals. Through the program, participants develop integral skills such as communicating in social and workplace situations, computer literacy, basic money management, interview skills, teamwork, understanding workplace culture, time management and employee rights and responsibilities.
Choosing a School Leaver Employment Support Program
Once Lou met with Athena, our Learning & Assessment Manager OCC Enterprises, she felt at ease and hopeful at the possibility of enrolling Harry into both the Towards Employment – School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) and the Day Support program with OC Connections. Lou learned that the SLES program didn’t have to lead into supported employment if that wasn’t something Harry was ready for, and he was under no obligation to pursue that pathway.
It was the tour of OC Connections and the induction with the Towards Employment team that really solidified the decision for Lou to enrol Harry in the program.
“What I loved most about it was that it replicated a classroom environment,” Lou explained. “There were other people Harry’s age in the program. When walking into the room there was a whiteboard, the day was set out for all participants that were involved and it seemed to be a seamless transition from a school environment into a SLES environment.” Lou felt assured that Harry would receive a similar structure to what he had at school, creating a safe space for Harry to learn new skills and enjoy himself.
Gaining new experiences
“What really captivated Harry and I was the amount of exposure Harry received to a variety of different activities. Harry did work experience in car washing where he went out in the community and washed cars. They worked together in a team and undertook instructions well – I remember the facilitator telling me that Harry really enjoyed himself as he had a very big smile on his face,” Lou shared. “The enjoyment that Harry has gotten out of different jobs such as car washing, coffee making or packing, and working out where his strengths lie has really been fantastic to witness.”
Other important skills Harry has learned is money handling; learning to count it, learning that he will get paid for his work if he chooses to go into supported employment, and knowing he is able to pay for things using his card.
As for soft skills, Harry has become more aware of others around him and how his behaviour can affect them. Harry can sometimes make loud noises that would potentially impact others, but with the guidance of the OC Connection’s Support team, strategies were implemented to assist him to stay calm and he learned about respect and boundaries. He has also become better at communicating his needs. “Although Harry isn’t verbal, he listened and followed instructions well, which led to the possibility of him stepping into supported employment,” Lou said.
Stepping into Supported Employment
Once Harry had completed the Towards Employment program, Lou was surprised and proud to see how much her son had grown in independence and skills.
“I never did once think that this stepping stone would lead into supported employment. It wasn’t something that we were contemplating originally but has naturally progressed into it,” Lou explained.
She consulted with Athena and the team at OCCE once again, and they recommended that supported employment was definitely an option for Harry. Lou had seen the updates, photos and videos of Harry doing work experience; he was actively participating, happy and thriving. They decided to give Supported Employment a try, in the packing area of OCCE which is Harry’s favourite. Harry has been a wonderful addition to the team and has worked diligently since joining.
Lou’s advice to any parent considering SLES and supported employment for their young adult is this: “I would highlight the importance of not ruling out an opportunity for your child because you as a parent may think they are not ready, or they won’t succeed. If you don’t try it, you will just not know.”
According to Lou, independence has been one of Harry’s biggest achievements. “Since commencing the SLES program we started to put Harry into a taxi with his peers from the program and they would all travel together to OCCE where their day would take place. Prior to this, we never imagined Harry would be able to travel in a taxi without us. Since then, he can take a taxi by himself to the Warrigal Road Centre and OCCE. He can now also catch public transport because that was something that he received training in. Harry has really grown up and matured,” she explained.
“He has also formed great connections with his peers that were a part of the SLES program with him, he bonded with people his age, doing a similar task. The fact that he was able to attend a 21st birthday party was a great achievement for Harry and us,” Lou shared.
For Harry and Lou, OC Connections has become an entire end-to-end service provider that has everything Harry has needed. From the Day Support program and SLES, to supported employment, Harry has flourished from the opportunities and experiences he’s had. Moving forward, Lou plans to take advantage of OC Connections’ Short-Term Accommodation (STA) and Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) when Harry is ready.
“Although we are a little while away from SDA, it’s good to know that one service provider can offer everything that Harry may need as a young adult.
We thank both Lou and Harry for their time to sit and talk to us.
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