Achieve in action - Charles Agbapulonwu’s unique story at Achieve Australia

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Charles Agbapulonwu prefers not to be in the spotlight. Yet in December 2020, the Service Coordinator for Meadowbank was awarded Achieve Australia’s celebrated Employee of the Year Award.   

Nominated by his colleagues and the people we support, families and carers, Charles was recognised for his outstanding professionalism and patience in the field. His ability to inspire and lift people’s spirts to make them laugh is a quality that also made him stand out as a leader.   

Charles says that supporting people with disability is a privilege, and one that he owes to the managers who have inspired him along the way. “I feel fortunate to be involved in the clients lives, so that they can achieve their goals and have a better life,” said Charles. “Whenever I do my work, I do it to honour the opportunities given to me by my managers who I really enjoyed learning from, particularly Ruchika Mangala and Taher Hessam at Achieve.” 

Previous Manager Taher says that Charles is a very passionate, understanding and caring person. “Charles is a good listener and is encouraging rather than critical. He leads by example and provides opportunities for growth for his team,” said Taher. 

Even from a young age growing up in his hometown of Nigeria, helping others was just part of life for Charles. “My family was always involved in helping people in communities, orphanages and prisons at our church. Through our charity work, we were taught to do good things for other people,” said Charles.   

As the first-born son of six siblings, Charles took the traditional path for his family and attempted to become a priest. Soon after, he realised he wanted something different. Encouraged by his father, Charles took an opportunity to study overseas in Singapore.  

After completing qualifications in Computer Science and IT in 2014, Charles came to Australia in search of new opportunities. “When I came Australia, I was working in a job where I was not fulfilled, and it didn’t have any meaning for me. I wanted to do something more meaningful.”   

Inspired by a friend working in the disability sector, Charles followed a new career path that would put his skills and passions to good use. With a young family to care for by then, Charles had to work hard and return to study to follow his new path.   

After completing his studies in disability, Charles secured work at a number of disability providers, including complex care for people with quadriplegia. “I loved my work there and the experience I got in complex supports. It was exactly what I wanted to do, to help people who appreciate it,” he says.   

In 2016, Charles came to work at Achieve Australia as a Social Educator. He then moved to a new role at Meadowbank, supporting 17 people with disability and more than 30 staff. Charles has many personal stories that have inspired him over the years, but it was one client who challenged him to push the boundaries.   

The client was a young man living at Meadowbank who has schizophrenia, ADHA, autism and personality attachment disorder with challenging behaviours. At the time, daily living and receiving support was very difficult and distressing for the young man. By working with the man’s family and his manager at the time, Taher, Charles set up regular staff rosters and daily living routines. In time, the young man started slowly showing signs of improvement and his behaviours were reduced.    

“He began stepping out of his comfort zone, recognising regular staff and interacting and trusting us more,” said Charles. “We moved him from his current workplace where he wasn’t getting paid, to AchievAble Enterprises. There he received training, support and the chance to earn his own money.”  

Charles also explored supporting the young man to get his own driver’s license to further his independence and self-confidence. This was a proud moment for Charles. “I realised then that anything is possible, we can achieve anything.”   

After 2 years, Charles still enjoys making a difference at Meadowbank by supporting people with disability to reach their goals and to live a full life. While COVID-19 provided significant challenges at the Meadowbank homes, Charles got through by working closely with his team and managers.  

“COVID-19 was a massive challenge, but we worked together and had good management who were well informed. This really helped get us through,” explained Charles. “We were proud to say that during that time no clients at Meadowbank got COVID-19, which was a big success for our team.”   

As for the young man who Charles was working with 2 years ago, he continues to do well with the right supports in place. “The young man is now going out independently and moving around more because of the efforts and consistency of staff,” said Charles. “It’s a huge success from where we started.” While the young man has not yet got his driver’s license, Charles has arranged for driving simulation sessions, so that he can enjoy the feeling of being behind the wheel.  

Recently, another person with disability was living alone and in unsuitable conditions. Charles and his team worked to support the client to move into a home at Meadowbank, where they could live with other housemates in purpose-built disability accommodation. “Since then, the client is happier and he loves the energy around the house with people coming and going,” said Charles.   

As more people with disability get ready to move into Meadowbank, Charles remains committed to his passion to support people with disability. “What’s most important for me is the clients, their happiness and comfort. If we can give people a good life, that’s all that matters.”