Mhari's journey to 'Get into Care'

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When you first meet Mhari Russell, you’d be surprised to find out that, for many years, she lacked the confidence needed to maintain permanent employment. Now, she’s been a finalist for a Young Achiever Award and feels like she’s finally found her calling as a care assistant, and her enthusiasm and passion for her job is clear to see.

24-year-old Mhari has been an employee at Balhousie Clement Park Care Home in Dundee for nearly two years. She began her career after taking part in a joint initiative between Balhousie Care Group and the Princes Trust Scotland. “It was the first time I’d done something like this so I was a little nervous at the beginning.” says Mhari. The five-week ‘Get into Care’ programme provides the opportunity to gain vital skills and experiences to begin a career in care and includes a placement at one of Balhousie Care Group’s care homes.

Mhari was first introduced to the Princes Trust Scotland by a friend in 2014. “I’d really struggled with my confidence and it meant that I hadn’t been able to properly hold a job for about three years” says Mhari. “I’d got to the point where I didn’t really care anymore, I couldn’t see what I wanted to do with my life and that made things really difficult for me.”

She found herself on a 12-week ‘Team’ course, working on community projects and building up her self-esteem and confidence, whilst learning about what it takes to work in a team. She then went on to join the ‘Get Into Care’ programme, which gives students formal training along with an in-depth understanding of what a care assistant role entails.

A career in care was always something Mhari had always considered. “My mum, gran and auntie all work in the care industry so it was always there in the back of mind, that I could do that too. I just didn’t have the confidence or knew whether I had the skills to be able to do it, that’s why the Get Into Care course was such a big help.”

“I learned so much in the five-weeks, all about moving and handling residents and the National Care Standards. The placement was my favourite part. It meant that we could put all of our learning into practice and see what the care environment was really like.”

At the end of the five-week programme, Balhousie Clement Park home manager, Margaret Stephen, was so impressed with Mhari that she offered her a permanent position as a care assistant within the home. “Mhari showed a real determination to do well from day one. She has a very hands-on attitude and plays an active role in her own personal development” she says.

The initiative meant that Mhari got that crucial support to help reach her full potential. “Sometimes she needed a little extra support, but we’re like a family here at Clement Park and she developed good relationships and everyone gave her that extra help when she needed it” Margaret added. “She’s become a vital part of the team here and is a real asset to Balhousie Care Group.”

Mhari was recently named as an ‘Oral Hygiene Champion’, someone who monitors and promotes good oral hygiene, and was nominated by Margaret to become one of Balhousie Clement Park’s dedicated dementia ambassadors and is currently completing her Promoting Excellence in Dementia Care modules. “Driving excellence in dementia care is a real focus here at Clement Park and Mhari is playing a huge part in helping us achieve that”, commented Margaret.

Mhari is now looking forward to the future. “I’ve got big ambitions now, I’m doing my SVQ2 in Health and Social Care and hope to go onto University to get my nursing qualification. I never thought I’d go to university, but now I’m determined to do it.”

Mhari’s attitude to providing that personalised care approach is reflected by her peers across Balhousie Care Group. “We’ve got the Together We’re Great initiative at Balhousie that helps us identify with each other and with our residents. It’s all about the people and that’s really important for me” says Mhari. “It’s so much more than just being a carer for somebody, you become a big part of their life so it’s important to get to know them, spend time talking to them and doing activites.”

One project within the home that Mhari was really engaged with was an intergenerational project with pupils from Harris Academy and St John’s High School. The project invited young, disengaged pupils to Clement Park to build on their skills, knowledge, confidence, responsibility and has empowered them to contribute to their communities. Mhari build up a good relationship with many of the pupils and provided vital support throughout the project. She comments:

“I think, because I could understand their situation and how they were feeling, I really connected with some of them.” The project, which is still ongoing, was recognised at the Scottish Care Awards 2015. Mhari adds.  “I think it’s important to tell my story and encourage people like me to take all the opportunities available to them. I want to continue to do things like that and hope to become a young ambassador with the Princes Trust Scotland in the future.”

Late last year, Mhari was a finalist in the Princes Trust Scotland Young Achiever of the Year Awards, which celebrates the success of young people getting into employment, training or education and overcoming substantial barriers to transform their lives. “I can’t believe how far I’ve come and how much my life has changed over the last couple of years. I’ve found a job that I love and it’s given me determination and a sense of purpose.” Mhari explains.