Amanda Hunt has always been passionate about community services. As a 16-year-old, she volunteered with a Catholic agency providing care for people living with an intellectual disability. From there began a lifelong passion for creating difference in people’s lives; a passion which has led her to become the new CEO of UnitingCare West, the Uniting Church WA’s community services provider.
Following a career in arts management, Amanda has 20 years of experience working in the community sector, having come to UnitingCare West from the role of State Director at Mission Australia for WA and SA. She has also been CEO of Gowrie WA, an early childhood organisation, and the Recreation and Sport Network, now known as Inclusion WA.
Amanda’s passion became cemented further when family illness showed her the importance of community care. While working with Recreation Network, Amanda’s dad became unwell with Parkinson’s disease, a battle which lasted 12 years. After an accident resulting in a head injury, he became frail and the family rallied around to support him.
“That to me showed me the importance of having community around people who are vulnerable,” she said. “And having people in their life who love and care about them.
“What struck me was, at the same time, I was working with people who didn’t have people who loved and cared about them and who needed people to really advocate on their behalf and to make sure they had a good life.
“My dad had always had an amazing life, he was Mr Fix-it, so we were determined as a family to make sure he stayed strong and surrounded by people who cared.
“Unfortunately my dad passed away fifteen years ago and at that time we were, as a family, really convinced that we needed to step-up our community involvement and our community commitment.”
Working in disability services became more than a job. Amanda said she is thrilled her career has now expanded into other fields like homelessness services, mental health services and more.
“It was one of those things where my passion for making sure that people have a good life and my career came together. It wasn’t really a career thing; it was a calling I guess. Through my family and through my belief that people who are vulnerable could, and should, have a good life.”
Amanda has joined UnitingCare West at an interesting time for the community services sector. State and Federal funding in the sector is changing, moving towards funding going straight to the client, rather than the service provider. We see this starting already with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) which is currently being trialled in WA, to be rolled out across the state in July 2017.
Amanda said this is fantastic news, as it gives clients control over who provides the services they need. But it also provides some challenges for organisations in the sector.
“That’s creating a lot of fear in the community sector because organisations aren’t built that way,” Amanda said.
“They’re built to receive block amounts of money and to be sustainable and to be able to budget for the year. When you’re working one-on-one with people you can’t really budget; you don’t know if you’re going to have enough people to keep your organisation going. So there’s a lot of viability concerns that organisations have.
“This is an opportunity and a threat. It’s an opportunity because we are committed to individuals, we’re committed to families, but we know that we can’t do it alone, we know that we have to stop and listen to people so that we can meet the needs that they have.
“What it means is that organisations like ours need to stay relevant and in touch with the people that we serve, providing what people need.
“If we are aiming at individualised services we can only get better. It’s about adjusting and staying sustainable from a financial level, so we need to have that underpinning strength.”
Amanda believes it’s important to remember that while all people are vulnerable at times in their lives, they may not be vulnerable for their whole lives. Working in community services is about listening to people and supporting them to overcome their hurdles, helping them to live the best lives they can.
“We know that people who are vulnerable aren’t always vulnerable. And we also know that with a little bit of support we can stop that pathway of people falling into increased disadvantage, into mental health issues or health issues,” Amanda said.
“We all feel it and we’ve all felt it at different times.”
With a strong faith background, Amanda feels blessed to be working in a faith-based organisation which has a huge network of likeminded staff and volunteers passionate about the cause.
“I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to put my faith in action, and putting Christianity in action,” Amanda said. “We’re so lucky to have an extraordinary community of Christians who want to be mobilised. It’s now us using our skills at UnitingCare West to support that as well.
“We’ve got as many volunteers, if not more, than we do people who are paid to be in the organisation. I want to maintain that connection. I want to make sure people know that we need them.”
After a few months in the job, Amanda feels like her focus in the role will be encouraging all people with a connection to the organisation – staff, volunteers and clients – to be the best they can.
“My focus is about bringing out the potential of all people, focussing on making sure that as an organisation we connect people with their true passion and their purpose and what it means to them to either support people to have a good life or to have a good life themselves.
“We don’t have all the answers. People are the experts in their own lives. While we have skills and knowledge and experience as paid people at UnitingCare West, it’s the individuals and the families who know themselves what it’s going to take for them to have the life that they want. Our role should be about connecting that.
“Our job is to listen, not to tell people what they need. It’ll be different for everybody; everybody has a different experience, a different human experience.
“I joined [UnitingCare West] because of the values, and I want to make sure that everyday we know that we’re putting those values in action.”
To find out more about the services UnitingCare West offers visit www.unitingcarewest.org.au or call 1300 663 298.
Top image: Amanda Hunt, CEO of UnitingCare West (centre) with previous CEOs Chris Hall and Sue Ash, at Amanda’s commissioning service in April.