Sonia Kuzniar, Operations Lead at Choice Support, nominated Gina for the award.
Formed in 1984, Choice Support is a charitable Community Benefit Society which supports people with autism, learning disabilities and mental health needs to find opportunities for creating their own happiness. It has services across England which include, supporting independent living and day centres which host a full programme of activities including cooking and healthy eating, gardening, crafts, computer skills and trips to places of interest which encourage people to try something new.
Sonia – can you tell us why you nominated Gina for the award of CareLineLive’s Star Carer of the Year?
There’s a lot of the day to day things that Gina does within her role and she does them really well. The creation and the energy that she brings to everything that she does, like the disco dating events and coffee morning recently. Gina has lots of plans and things that she would like to do to help people live full lives and we can see that happening. As well as supporting people Gina gets everyone into that headspace of ‘ we’re going to have a good time as well’!
Gina – what was your reaction when you were told that you had been nominated and come 3rd in our Star Carer of the Year award?
I’m not one to shout from the rooftops, I truly believe that me coming third is a team effort, so although I have come third my team has come third too, we’ve all won. Without the support from staff and management I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing. It’s really nice to be nominated especially because it is hard in healthcare and lack of local authority funding is a problem. As a company we have many great ideas to really empower the people that we support and for them to ultimately live the life that they want to. So far we have been incredibly lucky with funding from different places. This is a lovely end to the week.
What made you consider being a carer?
I have a son with severe learning disabilities and when he was five his paediatrician said that he would need long term care and that we should look at future options with a view to do forward planning. I decided to work as a support worker in a supported living environment to help me to understand what it was all about and what I could expect as someone on the receiving end when my loved one would be looked after by someone else. Prior to healthcare I was a hairdresser so it was a bit of a switch up.
What does being a carer mean to you?
I absolutely love it. I love walking into the service and making sure that people are going to bed with a smile on their face every day. And, whether it’s just someone being able to wash their own plate or they’ve gone to their first ever concert, its am achievement regardless of the scale. It’s really rewarding for me. Being a carer can mean many things on different days and in different situations, one day you’re a carer, the next an advocate and the next you may take on a parental role. On the whole, I think just being there for people to live the life that they want to live and to support them to enjoy their lives.
What aspects of being a carer do you enjoy?
The achievements of the people that we support and again, no matter how big the achievement is, it’s just seeing them achieving their goals and doing what they want to do including making sure that people are being treated as equals and not holding any restrictions in place. We’re breaking down barriers especially for people with learning disabilities and mental health challenges and understanding that not everyone can do what someone who doesn’t live with these conditions can.
What are the challenges you face in your job?
People’s perception of what healthcare actually entails. For example, one day we can have a coffee morning and everyone is buzzing and the next we can have a down day with funding challenges, staff shortages and keeping morale up. It’s like making your way through a stormy cloud to get to the rainbow, it’s a constant cycle. Again, we have a great staff and management team where everyone has each other’s back and there’s constant encouragement. If there’s a mad idea that someone else might think is absolutely cuckoo crazy, for example, disco dating, we will know that there will be quite a few opinions on that. But, we just think we’re going to do it. We had the best time doing the disco dating!
In the nomination Sonia said that ‘Gina has supported people to achieve so much this year from attending their first ever rock concert to setting up our speaking up forum, organising our first disco dating event which attended by people from across Nottingham, resulting in new friendships’. Can you tell me about the importance of this?
I don’t really think about it, if I’m planning something I don’t think of the restrictions, I think let’s just do it. It took many years for the gentleman to build the confidence to attend the Iron Maiden rock concert including ensuring that the right support team was around him. We stepped up to the occasion by dressing in leather and Iron Maiden t-shirts, taking some of us out of our comfort zones. Having the right team around him was important to carry that momentum for him to get to where he is today, it was just the beginning of the road for him. It’s seeing the enjoyment on people’s faces when that are doing these sorts of things and seeing such achievements being experienced that other people take for granted.
What are your aspirations for your career progression?
I don’t have any future career plans, I’m pretty content with what I’m doing right now and I feel like there is so much more that we can be doing and organising, like setting up more groups within Choice Support. We’ve made some great connections with external providers. I’m looking forward to the New Year and all the fun things and ideas that are floating around.
What do you like to do in your spare time away for work?
My time is taken up quite a lot with my family. I’ve got a great support system with my husband, he’s a full-time carer for our son. I also have severely disabled sister who has cerebral palsy, so I’m actually a part-time carer for her with my dad. Any free time I have, I go for a couple of drinks, just to let loose.