Class of 2008
Service Development Manager, Mercy Community
‘It is when the night is at its darkest that the stars shine the brightest’ — a quote that has directed Daena Berkhout through the good, the bad and the ugly of her interesting work as a Service Development Manager for Mercy Community; a not-for-profit Catholic organisation assisting communities in need.
Daena is dedicated to working with vulnerable and at-risk people of all ages to support them to achieve stability and hope for the future. Following an exchange to New Zealand, several travel experiences and through educational subjects whilst at John Paul College, Daena was exposed to the various issues facing society and continued to strive for betterment both as Tennis Captain in Year Eleven and Twelve, and as Pro Diligentia in her final year at JPC.
She loved the sense of family at JPC and wanted to ensure that this was replicated on her journey, to ensure that all people she met had a sense of belonging. Although she did not seek out her current role, Daena’s selfless work stood out as she was recruited from her previous role where she was working with vulnerable, at-risk children, and young adults in foster care in Toowoomba. Loving her role, she harnesses her own skills alongside those of her team, as they work with a variety of vulnerable individuals with differing abilities and cultural backgrounds.
It was her time undertaking an internship in Ghana with Cheerful Hearts Foundation as Project Co-orindator and Mental Health Therapist for slaves and trafficked children, and working in the remote Northern Territory that cemented Daena’s passion for working with people.
Daena is grateful to work alongside a team who are passionate and empowered by the work that they do. She has assisted the programs to grow from five staff to over 50 within two years. The growth of her team has meant that the service has been able to reach their target of over 1,000 referrals before the end of June 2019, which was the goal for the end of June 2020.
‘The big lesson is we never stop learning, regardless of formal education, every day is an opportunity to learn, every new situation is a chance to practice our skills or learn new skills’ Daena says. ‘You can learn from 5-year-olds, 95-year-olds, age does not matter – people do.’
Daena admits that in dealing with a variety of people, there is a multitude of challenges and it is her strong values of acceptance that she learnt at JPC that support her in understanding the difference in cultural attitudes, values and beliefs. Daena believes that understanding and embracing our differences is what empowers and supports the program to grow.
Despite accepting personal and cultural differences, she points to the importance of social change, encouraging her team and others to find their courage to use their voice, challenging a norm to strive for better and being brave enough to care. ‘Just because something has been some way for a period of time doesn’t mean it is right and it can’t change’ she says. ‘Start with small changes and eventually those things will grow.’
Daena often also provides educational sessions on the continued roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme reform to parents at schools, hospitals, prisons and at community events.
She was the recipient of the Mercy Community’s Mercy Moment Award for Outstanding Service, awarded to staff who display above and beyond dedication and initiative through the delivery of exceptional services.
Daena continues to embody the JPC spirit, as she says her education taught her unity, freedom, acceptance and respect, which she continues to incorporate in her everyday life and work.
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