Jacki Greening, 55, is a Support Worker for Totally Teenagers.
Totally Teenagers delivers a range of extra curricular activities for children (aged 5-17 years) and families across Torbay, including creative art and craft, and healthy cooking.
Jacki is a very talented, creative lady with a warm personality. She has seronegative polyarthritis; a highly debilitating and fluctuating condition which left her out of work for 13 years.
Pluss delivers Work Choice, the Department for Work and Pensions specialist disability employment programme. Work Choice receives funding from the European Social Fund for customers referred to the programme prior to 25th April 2017.
“Most of my job is planning all the craft activities that I do with the children from sewing to jewellery making; going online, researching and developing new ideas that take into account the ages of the children and their capabilities.
“I find the work very rewarding. I have always liked children and have a good rapport with kids. I keep them calm and focused. The children are so proud of what they make, they love it and they can’t wait to show their mums. Even if one child is excited about what they are doing it makes it all worth while.
“I have seronegative polyarthritis. I take medication which is a mild form of chemotherapy that keeps it at bay. This is why my hair is funny. I have injections in my knuckles and regular check ups. At the moment it is affecting my hands, knees and feet, and at one point I was bedridden and couldn’t walk at all. I also take medication to prevent shingles, which I get regularly because the medication dampens my immunities.
“It all happened in August 2003 and I haven’t worked since. I woke up one morning with a twinge in my back and just couldn’t move – I didn’t know why. I couldn’t understand what was going on and I panicked. I phoned my doctor and was hysterical.
“I was working at a jewellery studio at the time with a young daughter at school. I was shocked that it had happened to me. I was quite depressed because I felt so useless. I couldn’t even get in the shower. I had to be hoisted in the bath. It was so embarrassing and difficult. My daughter became my carer from nine years old. She was like a little mother, absolutely amazing.
“I didn’t see any of this coming and I found it really difficult to come to terms with. It was a really hard struggle and I tried to keep myself occupied to take my mind off the pain, but a lot of the time I was just too ill.
“I was out of work for 13 years. I always wanted to work; I didn’t like sitting in the house by myself. I wanted to be out meeting people. It was so difficult to be at home on your own with a child and not much money.
“I tried not to let it stop me doing anything; otherwise I knew I would be in a wheelchair. I was determined to push myself. I even paid to train as a phlebotomist but I couldn’t get a job. I tried so hard; applied for so many jobs. I wrote to every doctor and hospital, everyone I could think of in the bay and further afield. I tried receptionist jobs just to get a foot in the door. After a year, I was so lacking in confidence from all the knockbacks, I gave up.
“It was soul destroying as I have always been a positive person and have had no problem getting jobs before. Being knocked back all the time was something I hadn’t experienced. I only had two interviews out of all the letters that I wrote.
“But everything happens for a reason and in 2015, I was referred to Pluss. I did lots of training; employability skills, CV building, a makeover day and team building exercises where I learnt a lot about myself, including my skills and weaknesses. It made me realise I could do more than I thought. They helped me to build my confidence and we had fun. They were so encouraging; just to have someone believe in you makes such a difference, particularly after so many knockbacks. I made a lot of friends too.
“Then I found out about Totally Teenagers. I was on a course in volunteering when I got chatting to Sophie. She realised the skills I had and suggested I become a volunteer. Then Pluss suggested I do a traineeship which allowed Sophie six months to get funding. We had a chat and it was all arranged.
“Although it can be hard work, it couldn’t be a more perfect job for me. I love it. Sophie and I get on great. We have the same sense of humour and we laugh a lot. She understands what I go through every day and there is a mutual respect between us. She trusts me with the kids so I am honoured. I couldn’t have a better boss.
“It is a struggle, living with my health condition on a daily basis. I can’t sit or stand for very long. With this job, I can stand and sit at my leisure. I also need to plan ahead allowing myself time to get up and move. This job is mainly afternoons so it works really well.
“Despite everything I have been through, I think I am a stronger person. It has been character building to have gone through what I have been through and come out the other end smiling. It makes you realise life is too short.
“Working has givenme a reason to get up everyday. It has given me a big boost to know that Sophie relies on me and trusts me to deliver. It makes you feel needed. The children are so excited to see you and miss you if you’re not there. They rush up to you and fling their arms around you – it’s a lovely feeling.
“I am better off than I was, but it is totally about more than the money. I like working and I’m not at home, feeling useless. Not relying on the state makes you feel more worthy. When someone asks you what you do I have got a good answer; I love telling people what I do now. This job couldn’t be more perfect. I feel lucky and I’m happy.
Sophie Hickey, Totally Teenagers
“Totally Teenagers would not have been able to expand into these projects without Jacki. She is a reliable, committed and hard working person. The young people whom we work with took to her right away. They look forward to all the things that they make and cook. Jacki listens to them and they confide in her with their issues and worries.
“I have seen Jacki's confidence grow and I am absolutely delighted that she is on board. I can see a great future for her at Totally Teenagers in 2016”