Cameron Skinner has been a receptionist at the Jeremiah Group in Warragul, Victoria for over 11 years. He is a well-known identity in the Warragul community and is an avid Collingwood supporter! In this article Cameron explains his journey to find employment and the benefits of employment.

Cameron Skinner

The Receptionist

Home & Belonging

I’m the receptionist for the Jeremiah Group!

Before I found a job I wasn’t doing much. I used to go to an adult day centre. It was alright but it was boring and we did the same things every week. We mainly went to the movies, had day trips and did other types of recreation. Before I moved to Warragul I had my own wood kindling business. It was good but I got sick. Before I had a job I was lonely and isolated and didn’t want to go out. I would watch TV, listen to music or spend time on PlayStation.

I wanted a job so I could be more independent, make money and have something to get up for in the morning. My mum met Deb Rouget and invited her to our home in Neerim South. I told Deb I wanted to move out of home and get a job.

After this meeting I moved into my own home in Warragul and lived with a housemate. We also employed a support worker, Denise, to help me find a job. We spoke about my interests and the things I was good at doing. Denise realised that I was great with people and a good communicator! She took this information and started asking people in Warragul for job opportunities. Denise spoke to Gerard from the Jeremiah Group. Gerard needed a receptionist and decided to give me a go! For about three months Denise helped me to learn the tasks I needed to do as part of my role. She also created a manual that described the tasks I needed to do every day. This helped to build my skills and confidence.

When I first started it was a three month trial. I did really well and enjoyed the job. Gerard decided to keep me on. I have now been at the Jeremiah Group for eleven years, permanent part-time! I work Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.

Jeremiah Group is a payroll and bookkeeping company that provides services to about nine different businesses. My role is to collect, open and deliver the mail to the correct staff member. I answer the telephones, put the call through to the correct staff member or take a message. I go to the post office and do the banking. I also greet customers and show them to the correct office. My role also includes some general office tasks e.g. cleaning the windows, sweeping up, checking the photocopier, putting the bins out, filing and purchasing some of the office supplies.

My work mates are great! It’s a very friendly office and we all get on well. My best memory is going away with Gerard, my boss and a few others to watch the international cricket in Adelaide for three days. We had a great time and stayed in a motel.

The things I enjoy most about my job are getting paid, my work mates and helping the business. Through my job I have learnt many new skills. I have also met some of Gerard’s friends and many business people in town. If I didn’t have a job I’d feel isolated and bored – I’d feel down and struggle.

I love my job!

This article, The Receptionist was written by Cameron Skinner (2016). It appears in Thinking About...(Work), Issue 28, 14-15 and was published by Belonging Matters, Melbourne.

By Cameron Skinner

Housemates

A more typical way of living

By Maggie Skinner

Maggie Skinner is a parent and passionate advocate for Individualised Supported Living arrangements. Maggie and her family decided that the disability service accommodation models available, were incompatible with their philosophy and belief in what a good life required. Maggie’s son Cameron, who has dual disability, has lived in his own home with a variety of supports for 11 years. He is a valued neighbour and has been employed as a receptionist at a local business for 10 years!

As parents, we had not thought much about where Cameron would live when it was time for him to move out of home, because it had always seemed so far into the future. However, the time arrived well before we were ready and we had some serious thinking to do. When Cameron was 20 years of age, we realised he was not happy: he had been caught up in day programs and wanted regular employment, and to move out of home like his brother and sister. My husband Greg and I also had a vision for our own lives – we longed to travel as grey nomads all over Australia and spend time together after raising our family! – and we also knew that Cameron hated camping and caravans!

Our vision for Cameron was not dissimilar to the vision we held for his siblings: to work, to live in his own place, perhaps share with friends, get to know his neighbours and develop a range of friendships and lasting relationships. We found the segregated models available within the disability system did not fit with our expectations of a good life for our son, who happens to have a dual disability. We had to explore how to assist Cameron to get a permanent job and live in his own home as part of a supportive, caring neighbourhood. Rather than focus on “special” places offered by the system, we had to reorientate our thinking towards imagining how to arrange personalised support to assist Cameron to live a meaningful life, full of “typical” opportunities in his community.

I attended a number of educational events organised by Belonging Matters and then met with facilitator Deb Rouget. Deb came to our home and asked Cameron what he wanted to do with his life. We found that he wanted a job in Warragul and to live in his own place with a friend.

Once we had this information, we thrashed out how we could achieve Cameron’s vision. Cameron required support to live in his own home, but he did not need a “carer”. He also spoke about companionship. We learnt that one option was for Cameron to live in his own home with a housemate to assist where necessary and provide companionship. It seemed so typical, really – after all, it’s what our other children had done! However, with Cameron, we needed be more intentional about the support required to live in his own home.

Throughout Cameron’s life, we had fostered community involvement in non- segregated environments (e.g. mainstream school), so we did not want his home to become a “service” environment or “workplace” for staff. In addition, we did not seek a housemate with a disability. We felt that a person with a disability may not be in a position to provide the support and guidance Cameron needed, as they might also have considerable needs. We wanted someone who could teach, mentor and guide Cameron in cooking and domestic tasks, and possibly become a friend, share companionship and occasional recreational activities. In return for this assistance, we decided that the housemate would receive free rent.

The idea of Cameron living with a housemate gave us the confidence to believe that he could live away from home. It would provide the security of another person in the house and decrease his vulnerability, which was one of our major concerns.

The task of finding a good housemate was daunting at first. Questions arose, such as how do we find a good person, how do we find a compatible person, how do we find a person that will assist rather than do everything for Cameron, and many, many more. There is a lot of information on the internet about home-sharing arrangements, and at first we felt it important to have a formal arrangement that

listed conditions in an agreement. As housemates moved on, and they do, we have relaxed this and now have conversations with applicants instead.

Recruiting can be done in many ways. Our first option is ‘word of mouth’! As Cameron has become increasingly involved in the community, we have gotten to know some applicants and/or their families, and thus have an inkling of their suitability. Gumtree is another method that has been successful for families, or advertising in local newspapers or at TAFEs, universities and student notice boards.

We designed an interview process around Cameron and asked for referees. Some people or families may feel a first aid certificate is important if medical assistance is required, or a police check, or anything else they believe is important. However, it is important to remember that you’re not engaging a “carer”, but a housemate who can provide some assistance.

We found that several meetings were usually required to get to know the potential housemate and for them to get to know Cameron. The success of the relationship relies on open and honest communication, and we have found it beneficial to have another person the housemate can discuss issues with. For example, when Cameron moved into his own home with his first housemate in 2004, we employed a coordinator for ten hours per week to assist Cameron to find a job. This person was the contact between his housemate and us if there was an issue the housemate felt uncomfortable discussing with us.

It was also important to be clear and reasonable about expectations. During the first meeting, we would explain what was expected by clarifying both Cameron’s and the housemate’s roles and responsibilities. We also found it very useful to discuss how space was used in the house, and what private space Cameron or the housemate needed. We all need our own space at times!

As mentioned before, successful relationships are based on open and honest communication, and sharing a house is no different. We have found that regular visits and observing the interactions between Cameron and his housemate/s are important, as we can pick up on potential issues and deal with them before they became problematic.

It is to be expected that housemates’ lives change and that they will want to move onto the next stage of their lives. If you approach the house-sharing method believing that housemates should stay for lengthy periods, you may be disappointed. At the beginning of conversations with a new housemate, we request a twelve- month commitment. Cameron’s longest housemate lived with him for three years. Cameron has had two housemates that were single when they moved in, met the women of their dreams, got married and, of course, moved out! One housemate now has three children, and Cameron still keeps in touch and visits them regularly. Almost all of Cameron’s housemates have stayed in contact and remain firm and supportive friends. Each housemate has contributed to Cameron’s life, not only as a more natural form of support, but also in assisting him to achieve his dream of moving out of home and living in a place of his own.

This article, Housemates - A More Typical Way of Living was written by Maggie Skinner (2015). It appears in Thinking About...(Home), Issue 24, 12-15 and was published by Belonging Matters, Melbourne.

The  Receptionist

Cameron Skinner lives in his own home and is very much part of his local community. Over the years he has lived with housemates without a disability as a way of gaining support and companionship. In this clip Cameron, his family and housemates share the journey! 

© 2017 by 19 Stories of Social Inclusion

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