Jacki Greening, 55, a Support Worker at Totally Teenagers in Paignton, is talented, hard working and happy.
However rewind one year and it was a completely different story. Jacki was struggling to manage a highly debilitating health condition which had left her out of work for 13 years.
“I have seronegative polyarthritis” explains Jacki, “It all happened in 2003 and I hadn’t worked since. I woke up one morning with a twinge in my back and just couldn’t move.
“I was working at the time with a young daughter at school. I became quite depressed because I felt so useless. I couldn’t even get in the shower. My daughter became my carer from nine years old. She was like a little mother.
“I found it really difficult to come to terms with. It was a very 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.”
Determined to get back into work, Jacki retrained as a phlebotomist and began looking for work. Sadly, Jacki was rejected repeatedly.
“I was out of work for 13 years. I always wanted to work. It was so difficult to be at home on your own with a child and not much money.
“I tried incredibly hard and 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. I only had two interviews out of all the letters that I wrote. It was soul destroying.“
Jacki then discovered Pluss, a Social Enterprise that has helped over 300 people into work across Torbay and South Devon.
“Pluss helped me develop my employability skills, build my CV and undertake team building exercises. They helped me to build my confidence and were so encouraging; just to have someone believe in you makes such a difference after so many knockbacks. I made a lot of friends too.
“Then I found out about Totally Teenagers who deliver extra-curricular activities to children and families across Torbay including craft and healthy cooking. I got chatting to Sophie at Totally Teenagers and she realised the skills I had. I started as a volunteer to begin with, then Pluss negotiated a traineeship which meant I was paid whilst allowing Sophie time to get funding.
“Although it can be hard work, it couldn’t be a more perfect job for me. I plan and deliver the craft activities from sewing to jewellery making. I find it very rewarding. I have always liked children and have a good rapport with kids. The children are so proud of what they make and that makes it all worthwhile.”
Sophie Hickey, Youth Worker Practitioner at Totally Teenagers, is equally delighted with her new employee.
“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”
And getting back into work has completely transformed Jacki’s life.
“It’s a struggle living with a health condition but working has givenme a reason to get up every day. It has given me a big boost to know that Sophie relies on me and trusts me to deliver.
“I am better off than I was too, but it is totally about more than the money. I’m not at home any more, feeling useless and relying on the state. I love telling people what I do. I feel lucky and happy.
“Despite everything I have been through, I think I am a stronger person. It has been character building to have gone through all of this and come out the other end smiling. It makes you realise life is too short.”
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.