Charles Agbapulonwu prefers not to be in the spotlight. Yet in December 2020, the Service Coordinator for Macquarie was awarded Achieve Australia’s celebrated Employee of the Year Award.
Nominated not only by his colleagues but also clients, families and carers, Charles was recognised for his outstanding professionalism and patience in the field. His ability to inspire and lift people’s spirts to make them laugh is a quality which also made him stand out as a leader.
Charles says that supporting people with disabilty is a privilege, and one that he owes to the managers who have inspired him along the way. “I feel fortunate to be involved in the clients lives, so that they can achieve their goals and have a better life,” says Charles. “Whenever I do my work, I do it to honour the opportunities given to me by my managers who I really enjoyed learning from, particularly Ruchika Mangla and Taher Hessam at Achieve.”
Previous Manager for the Southern Region, Taher Hessam, says that Charles is a very passionate, understanding and caring person. “Charles is a good listener and is encouraging rather than critical. He leads by example and provides opportunities for growth for his team,” says Taher.
Even from a young age growing up in his hometown of Nigeria, helping others was just part of life for Charles. “My family was always involved in helping people in communities, orphanages and prisons at our church. Through our charity work, we were taught to do good things for other people,” says Charles.
As the first-born son of six siblings, Charles took the traditional path for his family and attempted to become a priest. Soon after he realised he wanted something different. Encouraged by his father, Charles took an opportunity to study overseas in Singapore.
After completing qualifications in Computer Science and IT in 2014, Charles came to Australia in search of new opportunities. “When I came Australia, I was working in a job where I was not fulfilled and it didn’t have any meaning for me. I wanted to do something more meaningful.”
Inspired by a friend working in the disability sector, Charles followed a new career path that would put his skills and passions to good use. With a young family to care for by then, Charles had to work hard and return to study to follow his new path.
After completing his studies in disability, Charles secured work at a number of disability providers, including complex care for clients with quadriplegia. “I loved my work there and the experience I got in complex supports. It was exactly what I wanted to do, to help people who appreciate it,” he says.
In 2016, Charles came to work at Achieve Australia as a Social Educator. Today he looks after four community homes at Crowle Estate, supporting 17 clients and more than 30 staff. Charles has many client stories that have inspired him over the years, but it was one client who challenged him to push the boundaries.
The client was a young man living at Crowle who has schizophrenia, ADHA, autism and personality attachment disorder with challenging behaviours. At the time, daily living and receiving support was very difficult and distressing for the client. Working with the client’s family and his manager at the time, Taher, Charles went to work to set up regular staff rosters and daily living routines. In time, the client started slowly showing signs of improvement and his behaviours were reduced.
“The client began stepping out of his comfort zone, recognising regular staff and interacting and trusting us more,” says Charles. “We moved the client from his current workplace where he wasn’t getting paid to AchievAble Enterprises. Here he received training, support and the chance to earn his own money. He became more stable in that supportive work environment and still works there now.”
Today Charles is looking at supporting the young man to get his own driver’s license to further his independence and self-confidence. It was a proud moment for Charles. “I realised then that anything is possible, we can achieve anything.”