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A perfect match

How disability inclusion within Red Cross is contributing to the Power of Humanity

Jeffrey Vont Steen (left) is one of three Supporter Services team members who are on the autism spectrum. Peter Rollinson, manages the team and has worked with them to create rewarding work opportunities.

"Recruiting is ultimately about matching the right person with the right job," says Peter Rollinson, Manager of the Supporter Services Centre at Australian Red Cross. His team of 30 staff and volunteers are responsible for developing strong relationships with Red Cross supporters and managing the thousands of transactions that are processed each day.

To increase team diversity and create opportunities in the community for people with disability, Peter worked with Alpha Employment Service, a disability employment service to engage Mark Curson, Jeffrey Vont Steen and Theo Papalaskaris. Mark, Jeffrey and Theo are all on the autism spectrum.

Mark is a keen Hawthorn supporter who started volunteering with Red Cross in 2012. When Mark commenced he was pleasantly surprised about his work responsibilities. "I was expecting they'd give me the work that no one else wanted to do… But on my second day here, they started me doing the branch deposits."

A year later, Mark secured a paid role with Red Cross and is now one of the core processors in the team where he uses his ability to process large volumes of work. Mark says "the work is interesting the only thing I really don't enjoy is the slow days when there's not a lot of work. I just ask Arlene (Team Leader) if there's anything to do and she usually finds something."

It was good to gain new skills, learn more and get more experience as well as to help out the community." Jeffrey, who is on the autism spectrum and works for Red Cross.

Jeffrey holds a Diploma of Business and began volunteering with Red Cross in September 2009. Initially he was packing boxes in a warehouse and labelling mail but Jeffrey felt that working in a warehouse was not the best use of his skills and was determined to do something related to his qualifications.

After discussion with his disability employment agency, Jeffrey began volunteering with the Supporter Services Centre team. "It was good to gain new skills, learn more and get more experience as well as to help out the community,"says Jeffrey.

Peter, the Manager of the team saw Jeffrey's proficiency for the job and worked with the employment agency to transition Jeffrey to a part time paid position. Jeffrey says that "getting a 'thank you' at the end of each day has helped him to feel a deeper sense of worth and has increased his self-esteem. "Peter always says, I'm part of the furniture," Jeffrey jokes.

Theo has been volunteering for four years in the Supporter Services Centre. Asked about his experience of volunteering Theo said, "I have a casual job cleaning cars [but] at Red Cross I started to learn some more challenging work, so that's good. Things I had no idea how to do before like processing cheques and direct deposits. It was kind of daunting at first but then you learn." Explaining what he does Theo says it's an administrative role. "We open the mail, sort it and somebody batches it then we process it to a database."

The volunteer work is in line with study that Theo has done and was organised through Alpha Employment. For Theo, helping to raise money for both Australian and international projects is what makes him feel proud to work at Red Cross and is why he would recommend others get involved.

Peter and Arlene Pilapil, a Team Leader in the Supporter Services Centre, dedicated time to Mark, Jeffrey and Theo when they first began so that they felt comfortable and supported in their new role. They then tailored the work so that it matched their interest and skills. Peter attributes the success of Mark, Jeffrey and Theo to being well suited for their job. "They enjoy what they do and they're good at it," he says. He also acknowledges the open mindedness of other team members who have helped to break down some initial barriers.