“I love it here, my mind’s always here,” says Mark Subotic, surely the happiest volunteer at the St Vincent de Paul opportunity shop in the Brisbane bayside suburb of Wynnum.
Mark lives with learning difficulties, diabetes and a significant hearing impairment. Before he was introduced to Omnia Inclusive by his NDIS provider, Carer’s Link, in the middle of 2022, he had never had a job. But at 47, it was something Mark was determined to change.
“I went to Hayley Beck (Mark’s support co-ordinator at Carer’s Link) and said, ‘Hayley, I want to do something with my life. I want to work somewhere’,” Mark recalls. “She referred me to Omnia Inclusive and then they introduced me to Vinnies. The idea was to start by doing volunteer work and getting experience so that one day I may be able to transition into a part-time job. It all went from there.”
Mark’s introduction to Vinnies went very well and each Friday and Saturday you’ll now find him cutting up price tickets, sorting through donations and generally supporting the rest of the team. “Sometimes I help with cleaning and doing a little vacuuming,” he says. “I also check the puzzles and CDs when they come in to make sure they’re ready for selling.”
“I really like to go out to the cars and greet people,” Mark adds. “I like to be social, that’s one of the best parts about being here. I never really had a social life before, but Vinnies gives me the chance to do that.”
One of the unsung heroes in Mark’s journey is Michelle Hayes, Centre Coordinator at Vinnies Wynnum. “Michelle is a nice person, she really supports me in what I do,” Mark explains. “With my disability, I have made some epic mistakes and sometimes I do get into a little bit of trouble. But when things need to happen, I can always have a two-way conversation with Michelle. We enjoy working with each other.”
Michelle agrees, explaining the changes in Mark have already been nothing short of amazing. “When Omnia Inclusive first referred Mark last year, he was very nervous, very shy, very quiet. But now we can’t shut him up!” she laughs. “Mark is keen to work, always has a smile on his face and really looks forward to coming in. After we close, he will ask ‘should I go home now?’ When I say ‘yes, Mark, you have to go’ he’s often a bit disappointed!”
It isn’t just a one-way street, mind you. Michelle points out that partnering with Omnia Inclusive has delivered some big benefits for Vinnies too. “Our volunteer numbers were pretty low after Covid, so we contacted Omnia Inclusive to see if they could help and they introduced us to Mark, and more recently another candidate, Peter,” says Michelle. “Their office is literally just across the road too, so even now I can always give them a quick call and say, ‘Hey, I think the guys are having a few difficulties’ and they can help because obviously they have more experience than I do. It works well and it’s great to have that communication.”
The other success factor at Vinnies has been deep understanding. “The relationship we have with Michelle and Vinnies Wynnum is just brilliant,” says Omnia Inclusive Area Manager, Trudy Morrisey. “We’ve been working together for more than eight years now and have been able to successfully place a number of volunteers, including Mark, because we genuinely understand their business and what Michelle is looking for.”
“Mark is a character, that’s for sure. But he does have some barriers, particularly in terms of his hearing impairment,” Trudy continues. “It was really important to understand how it affects him so we could match him to the right employer and skills-based activities that give him the best chance of success in terms of the goals he is working towards. Volunteering at Vinnies was perfect.”
Mark’s journey is a great example of the holistic approach Omnia Inclusive brings to its DES programs. “We always try to look at the complete picture when it comes to supporting and upskilling our candidates,” says Trudy, explaining the importance of working closely with the other support providers in a candidate’s life, as required.
“Over the years we’ve built a really good relationship with Carer’s Link here in Wynnum,” she says. “After speaking with Mark about his future goals and his desire to work, Hayley, who is Mark’s support coordinator at Carer’s Link, reached out to us. Together we made sure we were the right fit for Mark in terms of achieving his employment-based goals, and then worked out a plan to support him.”
“It’s like a circle of life and Mark’s in the middle,” adds Mark’s boss, Michelle. “He gets support from all of us. Hayley and Carer’s Link. Trudy and Omnia Inclusive. Me and the team here at Vinnies. We all bounce off each other and try to be on the same page when it comes to Mark’s wellbeing. We’re all here for him.”
With such a tight support network around him, Mark’s progress has been inspiring. “The growth we’ve seen in Mark is incredible,” says Hayley Beck from Carer’s Link. “Even just a year ago it was all one-word answers, one-word conversations, eye contact was really difficult. Mark wouldn’t say ‘hello’ to anyone. But now he walks in the front door and is cracking jokes with everyone! He is so much more confident; a completely different person. It really pulls at the heartstrings to see how far he’s come.”
Even more importantly, Mark can feel it too. “My life is very different now,” he says with pride. “I used to just sit at home playing with my mobile phone. I had a lonely life and it was no fun being by myself. But all of that has changed since I joined Vinnies Wynnum. I am really happy here.”
Looking to the future, Mark isn’t 100% sure about his long-term goals just yet. But in the short term he is very excited about one thing. “I’ve always been a huge Batman fan and have a big Batman collection at home,” he enthuses. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the new movie, ‘The Flash.’ It comes out in June and stars the original Batman, Michael Keaton. It also has the original Batmobile and the original Bat Cave. I can’t wait!”
We can’t wait either, Mark … to see what you do next.
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