MERCURY SERIES: Making a Difference
When Daniel Gannon hung up his butcher's apron to try a career as a support worker, he never knew how much it would change his life for the better.
The 22-year-old Nowra man has formed such a strong bond with the people he cares for that he has gone above and beyond what is required in the role.
And what he really enjoys seeing is other young people in the community doing the same thing.
Mr Gannon is full of admiration for the dozens of volunteers up and down the coast who help the Disabled Surfers Association (DSA) take people with disabilities out on longboards.
He said the White Knights soccer program run by the Disability Trust every weekend in Wollongong and Nowra was another great example of young people sharing their passion for a sport with people with disabilities.
"It is a great way to break down barriers very quickly," he said.
Mr Gannon only has to look at the impact of his own role with CareSouth in Nowra to know why volunteers do what they do.
One of the people he cares for, Steven, 42, is quick to point out how much he thinks of his friend.
"He is my twin for when we go camping together down the coast," Steven said.
"Daniel is like my brother. We watch movies together, we play PlayStation and Mario Kart on Wii."
Steven has been living at Nan Bishop House for eight years and enjoys his independent life socialising with other residents and engaging in many other activities such as playing the guitar and listening to music.
He also enjoys watching trucks, mowing lawns and surfing with his friend.
And he proudly shows off a medal he won recently at a DSA event at Seven Mile Beach.
Mr Gannon said Steven's ability on a surfboard was inspiring but so too was the great relationships he saw developing between young surfers and other people with disabilities such as one resident at Nan Bishop House who has cerebral palsy but loves being in the water.
The surfers surround him, so he can experience the surf, and they love seeing the look of joy on his face.
Steven moved out of home at 34.
His parents were getting older and were concerned about his long-term future, so they organised for him to trial living at Nan Bishop House.
But it quickly became a permanent arrangement when they saw how much he loved his new home, had became more independent and interested in doing many more things.
Seeing the friendships he has developed with people such as Mr Gannon also gave them comfort.
Mr Gannon has now worked with Steven for four years and equally enjoys the activities they do together.
"I was 18 when I came in to do my induction here and pretty much got along with Steven from the first time I met him," he said.
"We went down and started playing racing games on his PlayStation ... and it grew from there. I couldn't think of anything better than coming to work and getting to spend time with Steve.
"I came from being an apprentice butcher. I did not like that and I didn't really know where my life was going, but I thought I would give this a shot and I have never looked back."
Mr Gannon said the camping trip Steven was looking forward to was part of CareSouth's individual planning approach.
"We give Steven the opportunity to express what he wants to do and to have a few dreams and goals," he said.
"One of his biggest dreams is to go camping. So I have agreed to do that in the next couple of weeks.
"That is going to involve riding a bike, canoeing, fishing, swimming and a visit to Mogo Zoo."
Steven said he planned to catch more fish and paddle his canoe faster than his mate.
"I am also going to teach Daniel how to dance," he said.
Mr Gannon has encouraged others to consider doing a Certificate III in Disabilities at TAFE.
CareSouth's Davina Collier said the opportunity for people with disabilities to experience life through a person-centred planning approach worked well because of people such as Mr Gannon who were making dreams come true.
But she said it was important to build more understanding among young people and recruit more volunteers so they could do even more.
CareSouth is encouraging Illawarra residents to think about that during International Day of People with a Disability on Monday.
The day is about educating the community that people such as Steven are like everyone else and enjoy the same things.
CareSouth is seeking volunteers to help out for about two hours at a time on weekends.
It also runs many other programs such as foster care, respite care, and an uncles and aunties initiative.