Giving lives a SPARK

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SPARK, Ginninderry’s unique training and employment initiative, was born out of a commitment to improve the education, social, and economic outcomes of residents in the local area.

Since its inception in 2016, SPARK has proudly delivered over 1500 training places, 600 work experience places and 750 jobs. Taking inspiration from the British documentary series Seven Up!, here are three stories about lives transformed through dedicated training, mentoring and unfailing support over a five-year period.

Maree’s story

For Maree, a stay-at-home mum, the untimely death of her husband several years ago meant she had to find work. But conquering her grief, her shyness and her lack of skills was never going to be easy. SPARK was the perfect opportunity for Maree to learn some job skills in a supportive environment with gentle encouragement from Ginninderry mentors.

Mentors such as Emma Sckrabei helped build Maree’s confidence as much as her skills as she began her SPARK journey. Originally completing an administrative course, Maree began to see light at the end of the tunnel. But despite having new skills, she did not feel administrative work was her passion. She headed straight back into the SPARK program to get qualifications in horticulture and landscaping.

Maree realised that her love of gardening and being outdoors could also become her employment. The physical work saw her flourish. She completed her qualifications and began full-time work with UnitingCare Kippax’s Social Enterprise The Mower Shed.

UnitingCare’s Cassandra Johnson said the biggest change she saw in Maree over the three years she was there was “her confidence and her ability to lead – she became a huge mentor, especially to new people entering the program. I am so incredibly proud of her”.

Maree has not stopped. She now has a job with Transport Canberra and City Services and loves it.

One of the most rewarding parts of her training experience is that Maree has been a role model for her own children – her son Luke following in Mum’s footsteps and undertaking his own SPARK training to enter the hospitality industry.

“When I saw Mum finishing SPARK, I thought if she could do it then I can do it. She has the best work ethic I’ve ever seen. She is the best inspiration.”

Bree’s story

Bree credits SPARK with allowing her to transition out of an industry that she wasn’t happy in (hospitality) and move into one she has always wanted to be a part of – construction.

Despite wanting to do carpentry in high school, Bree took the path expected of her and qualified as a chef. But the demanding hours, shift work and rigours of the job took a mental toll on Bree, who felt isolated from friends and family.

Her suppressed desire to consider carpentry resurfaced when she saw a Facebook ad for SPARK’s Women in Civil Construction Program. Despite her fears, Bree took the plunge.

According to Emma, Bree managed to overcome many challenges and is almost unrecognisable from her time before the program. She now has a fiancé and a dog called Hooch on top of her fulfilling career.“I am now working in civil construction, I am seeing friends, gaining confidence and I love that every week is different,” she said. Bree even has time to pursue her passion for drumming and is in a band outside of work.

Working on a subdivision in Whitlam, Bree has become “one of the superstars of our program,” according to Emma.

“She’s living her best life, and we are very proud of her.”

According to Bree, “It’s a very good environment, everyone is so uplifting, everyone is positive and happy.”

Bree’s experiences include working on commercial sites, electrical projects, and residential projects. And before too long, she plans another project, starting a family.

Watch Bree’s story here.

Mark’s story

Like many of us, Mark found himself in a dark place during Covid. After relocating from America to Yass to look after his parents, Mark could not reunite with his partner due to lockdowns. He suffered a period of unemployment where he could only look inwards. He felt hopeless and alone.

Despite a constant search for work and undertaking a series of short courses in order to build up his skill set, Mark continued to languish. According to his sister Jacquie, “The job market was quite tight, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity…he was in a sad and dark place”. She suggested the SPARK program to Mark and he enrolled in the horticulture and land management program.

“I’m really glad I participated. It gave me something to do, it got me outdoors and I was learning so that made me happy,” Mark said.

Mel Lyons, Mark’s mentor, said he quickly made an impression on the group with his knowledge and generous spirit.

“He came out of his shell and started to be an integral part of the group. He has a wealth of experience and knowledge in different areas and he was really willing to share that with other participants, which was lovely to see.”

Mark was also a dedicated beekeeper and a surplus of bees saw him approach Ginninderry to see whether he could keep some in the gardens there.

After consultations with Ginninderry’s Sustainability Manager Jess Stewart, Mark set up some hives and Ginninderry now proudly produces its own local honey.

Watch Mark’s story here.

As they continue their journey, using the foundational skills they learned from SPARK, Ginninderry hopes to bring you updates from Maree, Bree and Mark in 2028. Stay tuned!

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