Make caring your career

Tanya McCulkin, Head of Service Development and Design with Endeavour Foundation, recently celebrated 20 years of supporting people with a disability and says that, as a career, it’s ‘addictive’.

“When I hear people talk about their careers I feel really lucky, because I know what I’m doing and I know why. You don’t stay somewhere for 20 years if it’s ‘just a job’.

“In February 1997 I took my first, tentative steps as a support worker with Endeavour Foundation in Rockhampton. I’d been working in a nursing home while I was at University, but I’d never had any exposure to disability. I had no idea what to expect, but I did my training and joined the local day service.

“As my experience grew, other opportunities cropped up. I supported people, one-on-one, with some really complex behaviours and started working in accommodation support.

“It was a steep learning curve, but so fulfilling.

“In time, and with a host of training under my belt, I transferred to Toowoomba, where I still live today. It was there that I was offered a management opportunity – I took it and discovered that I loved being able to lead people; loved stretching myself. That role was very goal-focused, working closely with people with a disability and their support staff to ensure that they were pursuing their ambitions and tapping into their potential, so I still felt really close to the ‘coal face’.

“In the years that followed, different opportunities came up – some I got, some I didn’t. But I moved through roles like Service Development Manager, Operations Manager, Area Manager, State Business Manager and, now, am Head of Service Development and Design.

“For me, the key has been the development and coaching support that I’ve received, in conjunction with my own commitment and drive. The progression opportunities were there, so I took them.

“I love leading people, advocating with and for people with a disability, and am passionate about the work that we do.”

“I’ve had a lifetime of opportunities here and have met the most amazing people, some of who have become lifelong friends. You don’t expect to meet great people at work, but I have been blessed with the most caring and committed colleagues. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet some truly inspirational people with a disability who have taught me not to take anything for granted and to live in the moment.”

“My new role feels like the natural convergence of everything I’ve done to date. I’ll be doing what I’ve been dreaming about for years - co-designing services with people to specifically meet their wants and needs. It’s exciting, it’s what this new era under the NDIS is all about and, most of all, I trust it will enable us to partner with people to achieve the real possibilities in their own lives.

“I often reflect on my starting point as a support worker, and how grateful I am that I stumbled upon that opportunity. Honestly, I didn’t see it as a career to start with, but once I got the taste for it, I fell in in love with the job. It put me on a completely different trajectory in my life and in my career and has defined the person I am today.

“And it absolutely is a ‘career’. I think that, too often, people underestimate the impact and satisfaction that comes with the support worker role and the fact that it can provide a lifetime of personal and professional fulfilment, either in its own right or as a foundation for other opportunities.”