Dana is not only Achieve Australia’s Employee of the Year for 2022 but also the recipient of the Client Choice Award.
“Speaking to parents and families and hearing how big of a difference we make in their lives is also incredible. The trust is there – the appreciation that we can be relied upon,” Dana says.
Dana’s history with Achieve Australia started 26 years ago when she answered a job ad in her local newspaper placed by Hornsby Challenge* looking for a Czech speaker.
She landed the part time role which involved supporting a lovely woman in her 60s living with Down syndrome, Ms Liba Kriska.
“It was a wonderful job as I had so much in common with Liba. Like me, she loved to knit, and we enjoyed the same kinds of movies. It was such a pleasure to spend time with her,” Dana says.
“I listened while Liba told me about living through World War II including a bombardment that happened while she was on the loo. Everything was destroyed but the loo, so she survived.”
“Her father went to India to open Bata footwear. Later, she and her mother joined him before then moving to Australia where her mum applied for support from Hornsby Challenge.”
Dana has personal experience of social inclusion. She came to Australia in 1968 speaking only a little English. She came here to visit her mother who had settled in Sydney after marrying an Australian. Dana wanted to stay too, and she and her mother visited Parliament House in Canberra where they met then Immigration Minister Al Grassby.
Once she secured permanent residency, Dana got a job in a coffee shop where she balanced an English dictionary in one hand with her order pad in the other. When she married, she and her husband moved to Wahroonga on Sydney’s North Shore where they raised three children.
Hornsby is only a short drive away and Liba visited Dana’s family home to enjoy her Czech cooking and spend Christmas.
“Having Liba in our lives was good for my family too as they had never met anyone with disability,” she says.
Dana enjoyed the job so much she asked if there was more work and eventually the casual part time role became permanent.
“Over the years I have worked with lots of different clients with different needs but what I find is a wonderful constant is how happy the people I support are to see me each day. That’s an amazing feeling,” Dana says.
Dana has always worked in the Asquith and Hornsby areas in roles including social educator and team leader. The Senior Support Worker role was created as part of the Achieve frontline restructure in 2020-2021. In this role, Dana models best practice service delivery and provides guidance and mentoring to frontline support staff.
Directly supporting people to learn new independent living skills or plan social outings and family catch ups is also part of her role.
“I enjoy seeing how proud people feel when they learn something new like cooking a meal. Our clients love to learn, and it is a privilege to be part of their journey,” Dana says.
“Disability is part of the human experience. As a society, we should make the effort to create adjustments so people with disability can participate as fully as they can as part of our community,” she says.
“I love to support people and see their lives changing as they have new experiences – they are like a second family to me.”
Advice for people thinking about joining the sector
Dana says to succeed in a support worker role takes good listening skills, the ability to think without judging and a willingness to collaborate with people we support, their families and colleagues to problem solve.
“Achieve Australia is a great environment to work in with learning and training opportunities and discussions with colleagues to hear their experiences and what you can learn from each other,” she says.
“I would encourage anyone to try this work – it is an amazing experience, but it is fine to try it and decide it is not for you.”
“The people we support respond best to those who really connect with this work,” she says.
Over the years Dana has been offered roles where she would spend most of her time at a desk, but she prefers frontline service delivery.
“Every day you finish work at Achieve you leave knowing you have made a positive impact,” Dana says. “And that is rewarding feeling.”