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Due to the impact of the COVID-19, Sharks Have Heart Disability Programs Coordinator Brendon Coombes has battled on in recent months in difficult circumstances.

Sharks Stars, a program headed up by Coombes which aims to connect people living with disability to their community through employment, was launched in February after a grant was approved from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

However just as Sharks Stars was about to take off, such was the timing around community shut downs, face to face interaction with the participants became challenging.

Forging ahead though in reacting to the challenges faced, as a result of persistence and hard work, as well as due to the efforts of some of the committed clients, the program continues to kick goals for those involved.

One participant undeterred by the associated setbacks while enlisting the assistance of Coombes, was Jerome, a young man intent and focused on making his mark as a teacher’s aide.

Unfortunately, obstacles were presented, but with the help of Coombes and Sharks Stars, Jerome has entered the workforce, is powering forward and his future looks extremely bright.

His is a story one of persistence and resilience and Jarome, who is extremely thankful for the support he has received, is about to reap the rewards.

“I attended a special school that cares for students with different disabilities and I really liked helping the other students that were having trouble in class. When I left school, I did a Certificate 4 in Education support where I was awarded a Certificate of Excellence,” Jerome began.

“But despite all the effort, achievements and help I received I could not get a job in the Public School system. I was enrolled in a School Leaver Employment Service for nearly a year and then another employment service for five months still with no success,” he explained.

Jerome and his parents then heard about Sharks Stars, he was welcomed into the program and from there the relationship evolved, through the industry contacts and knowledge of Coombes, combined with Jerome’s will to succeed, the result has been positive for all concerned.

“We explained our situation and the problem that I did not have an Education Department Casual I.D number. Nobody it seemed wanted to spend the time to help me get this number, so I could work in the Public School System,” Jerome said.

“Brendon promised he would help me wherever he could and within weeks, not months, he introduced me to Minerva School Principal John who said his school at Sutherland would help me.

“I met with John and after completing the online program and paperwork, I had the Casual I.D number and have worked for John as an SLSO in his school,” Jarome added.

Jarome has also applied for teacher’s aid work at a number of other local area primary schools and while there are still hurdles in relation to the COVID restrictions, his outlook is very positive.

He was glowing with his praise of what Coombes and Sharks Stars was able to do for him.

“I was so pleased with how Sharks Have Heart and Brendon had helped me where others could not. I would recommend the program for anybody that was considering joining the program,” Jerome said.

Coombes was more modest as to his input in assisting Jerome to navigate his way to where he is now.

“Jerome was very dedicated, knew what he wanted to do, we just had to get him past the roadblock,” he said.

In continuing his efforts with the Sharks Stars program Coombes and more than a dozen of the program participants recently enrolled in a Certificate 3 in Customer Engagement, a course to be delivered by a registered training organisation.

Meeting at the Sharks at Kareela club, the Sharks Stars clients and their parents and carers were presented with a learning module outline by training provider Peter Buffin, with the course to run over 26 weeks in a classroom setting. Coombes will assist the participants through the process.

Sharks at Kareela and Sharks Leagues Club General Manager Elie Bassil also spoke to the group on the day about the significance of customer service, not only in a licenced club setting but through all types of business and employment, in emphasising the relevance and importance of this particular Cert 3 course.

“Customer service separates a successful business from a struggling one. Little things make a big difference,” Bassil stressed to the Sharks Stars participants.

A first of its kind program amongst NRL clubs in supporting inclusion and creating connection through the community, Sharks Stars welcomed their first group of participants in February before COVID lockdowns presented a new set of challenges.

The program however continues to operate with Coombes working closely with the Sharks Stars clients in helping them to set goals, with workplace etiquette, resume and cover letter writing, job seeking, interview skills, conflict resolution, computer skills and in being resilient, offering knowledge and experience that will hopefully lead to acceptance into the workforce.

For more on Sharks Stars and to access information on any of the Sharks Have Heart disability programs, contact Coombes via email at [email protected]

Sharks at Kareela General Manager Elie Bassil speaking to the Sharks Stars participants at the recent Cert 4 Customer Service information session
Sharks at Kareela General Manager Elie Bassil speaking to the Sharks Stars participants at the recent Cert 4 Customer Service information session
From left Sharks Stars program coordinator Brendon Coombes, program participant Jerome and Sharks at Kareela General Manager Elie Bassil.
From left Sharks Stars program coordinator Brendon Coombes, program participant Jerome and Sharks at Kareela General Manager Elie Bassil.