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From left, Sharks Stars program manager Brendon Coombes, client Harry and program assistant Isabella

The Sharks through their community arm “Sharks Have Heart”’ applied for and were approved a grant from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as a part of their Information Linkages and Capacity Building programs (ILC) to connect people living with disability to their community through employment.

In supporting inclusion and creating connection through the community, Sharks Stars was created in a first of its kind program amongst NRL clubs.  

Sharks Stars launched in February 2020 with the first group of participants welcomed into the program and presented with shirts as part of a uniform to have them feel part of the team.

Brendon Coombes from Sharks Have Heart was tasked with coordinating the program, where he works closely with the current group of participants.

“Because everyone has different skills and abilities, it was very important that as we worked through different modules of the program, we tailored it to suit the person, we got to know them as we worked with them one on one,” Coombes said.

Learnings being focused on in the program included setting goals, workplace etiquette, resume and cover letter writing, job seeking, interview skills, conflict resolution, computer skills, being resilient and work experience.

Unfortunately, the work experience component hit a hurdle with the current health crisis, however Coombes was quick to put temporary measures in place to ensure the program continued to operate under the challenging circumstances.

“Work experience was to be a very important element of the Sharks Stars program, and it still will be,” Coombes explained.

“Work experience was to take place at our home games, where participants would have been trained in many different situations, including customer service skills, on field activations, money handling skills and any other opportunities that would present themselves during the day.

“Rosters for game day were drawn up, tasks were allocated, excitement for our first chance to do work experience with our participants was building and then the Coronavirus presented itself which not only took the world by surprise but closer to home obviously impacted the NRL,” Coombes said.

Unable to do work experience until crowds are allowed back to sporting events and now also unable to meet with participants face to face, Sharks Stars made the decision to take the program online so those taking part could remain engaged via video conferencing.

“During social distancing, it is very important that people living with disability don’t feel even more socially excluded than they need to be,” Coombes added.

Video conferencing has not only changed the direction of the program, but it has allowed a connection between the club and the participants to be maintained. 

With anxiety levels across the community currently at an all-time high, the ongoing contact with participants has allowed for conversations about mental health, coping mechanisms and in maintaining contact across the individuals support networks, such as parents and care workers.

“During this time, it is important that participants are supported from all directions,” Coombes said.

Through Sharks Stars, when NRL crowds return, there will be an enthusiastic and upskilled workforce ready to assist in making the game day experience an enjoyable one for all concerned.  

For further information on the Sharks Stars program, which the club looks to continue and to grow further into the future, please contact Brendon Coombes on 0419 160 526 or via email at [email protected]