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Neri Johnson is busting the myth that your seventies is a time to slow down.

Neri works for CCS Disability Action supporting disabled people in the Christchurch community. Neri also chairs two community organisations which improve social connection and reduce social isolation and loneliness. She was also recently recognised by the Philippines government with an award for Services to the Community, equivalent to the New Zealand Order of Merit.

On top of this, Neri is one of the latest graduates to successfully complete an apprenticeship in Health and Wellbeing Disability Support with Careerforce Te Pūkenga.

Neri’s lead-in to this work started when she applied to CCS Disability Action, formerly NZCCS, to be the main support for her grandson who had severe cognitive issue due to medical misadventure during his birth.  Describing this as ‘early intervention’, she was allowed to support him through the organisation. Sadly, her grandson died before he turned 6. 

Neri Johnson proudly shows off her certificate at her graduation, joined by Careerforce’s Andy Bunn to the left, and the CSS Disability Action team 

The skills she gained from this experience, helped her secure a role as a Community Support Worker in the adult services team at CCS Disability Action, providing similar types of support to adults.

CCS Disability Action supports disabled people, and their whānau, across the country to enable them to have choice and control in their lives. Their vision is for every disabled person to be included and participate in the life of their whānau and their community.

“I feel I can relate to the people I am supporting”

The people Neri supports include a variety of individuals, such as a woman with Cerebral Palsy who has mobility issues, and a gentleman who had a stroke that left him with partial paralysis, muscle problems and trouble with coordination and fatigue.

“I feel I can relate to the people I am supporting,” says Neri. “Some are wheelchair users and feel they can’t go out anymore or they can’t see their friends anymore.”

Neri’s role is to support them and provide community connections.  She helps them identify and appreciate positive experiences, and she provides moral support, that complement the physical and rehabilitative therapies they receive from other professionals.

“For some of the people their world was sitting down watching TV all day.  They need connectivity and social cohesion. I encourage them to go out into the community, and have a change of environment, a breath of fresh air. We go shopping, have a coffee.” says Neri.  

“You can feel the growing confidence in themselves as the time we spend developing their community participation increases. It’s very satisfying at the end of the day, it might seem like a tiny help that you have done, providing the company, the support, and the help, but for the people I support, it’s a big thing.”

“I liked being able to learn at my own pace”

Neri’s apprenticeship journey began when Careerforce Apprenticeship Advisor Andy Bunn was invited to chat to support workers at CCS Disability Action about professional development. Neri was then selected to enrol in the apprenticeship along with two other Community Support Workers.

“I’m very hungry for knowledge, I know that knowledge is power,” says Neri. “I’m going to do this, I thought. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. That was my determination.

“I liked being able to learn at my own pace, in the self-directed part of it, but I also enjoyed the interaction and support from the advisor [Andy],” says Neri.

“Doing the apprenticeship has enhanced the way I deliver my role. The training has been absolutely amazing. It has changed the way that I support people, because there is so much to learn in that area.” 

Apprenticeship was well supported by Careerforce and CCS Disability Action

Careerforce’s Andy Bunn helped support Neri throughout her apprenticeship which she says took a little longer than expected, but she got there in the long run because she qualified in three separate papers.

“Andy was always there. He’s absolutely brilliant,” says Neri.

“I am beyond grateful to him for all the words of wisdom that compelled me to achieve this milestone.  He is a brilliant mentor.”

CCS Disability Action also supported Neri in her learning. “Steve Daw, my observer was very supportive and encouraged me to dig in deep to find the answers to the questions asked in the course. He also supported me to not give up and often reminded me that I already know the answers due to a lifetime of lived experience.”

Neri believes strongly in what she is doing.  She says we all need the social connections, social cohesion, changing the environment, telling stories, and laughing together.  It’s good for your cognitive abilities – it’s very good for your health and wellbeing.

“I think age is something to be celebrated and not to be scared of. Age is not a barrier.  I’d like to inspire people that way.  You steer the boat where you want it to go. Life is what you make it! Look at me I’m still doing something quite amazing!”

More information

For more information about the Apprenticeship in Health and Wellbeing Disability Support, contact Careerforce, a business division of Te Pūkenga. Eligible employers can also receive $500/mth Apprenticeship Boost payments for apprentices within their first 24 months, recently extended to December 2024.