I Am Here Co-Founder awarded OAM

I Am Here Co-Founder awarded OAM

On Wednesday 26 January, Co-Founder of Hunter disability not-for-profit, I Am Here, Pamela Comerford was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

This award recognises thirty years of self-sacrifice and determination by Pam to create a place that gives people who have experienced the trauma of an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) and their carers an opportunity to take a real break and rejuvenate.

Pam’s journey was inspired by the catastrophic brain injury suffered by her son Jason, now 52 years old, following an accident while playing rugby league just prior to his 18th birthday.

In the space of a few moments, the lives of Jason, Pam, and their family were changed forever.

“It started out as just another Saturday morning playing footy, something Jason had done for years,” Pam said. “A few days later, he turned 18 in a coma.”

This was the beginning of a long process of confronting not only the myriad challenges involved in understanding and managing Jason’s condition, but also of finding some relief for those like her who were caring for people with an ABI.

“The pressures on carers are enormous,” Pam said.

“It was pretty clear early on that few services were available to give carers a break, so we realised we had to do something ourselves.”

Along with a dedicated group of fellow carers and supporters, Pam set about finding a suitable respite home for people with ABI. After a long search, a property was purchased in Adamstown Heights, and the Not-for-Profit entity Hunter Brain Injury Respite Options (Hunter BIRO) was established.

Two years later, Hunter BIRO moved to a more suitable location in 18 Isabella Close Elermore Vale.

As the service grew, so too did the responsibility for running a financially viable business. This became even more critical with the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2013.

Under the NDIS guiding principle of ‘choice and control,’ those with a disability were now funded directly and able to choose their disability supports from an increasingly competitive market of service providers.

As the Chairperson of the Committee of Management, Pam was all too aware of the new set of challenges confronting the disability sector.

“We knew that if we were going to survive, we needed help to transition to the new NDIS world,” she says.

Enter General Manager, Ingrid Airlie. After a successful communications career at the Calvary Mater Newcastle, Ingrid used her deep experience in the health sector to drive much-needed change and reposition the organisation in the disability sector.

A rebranding to I Am Here and accompanying marketing campaign signalled a new era.

Under Ingrid’s guidance and with the support of Pam and the Committee, I Am Here’s respite and Supported Independent Living services are now delivered from three dedicated disability houses, two in Elermore Vale and one in Wallsend, and employ over sixty support workers and administration staff.

“I’m so proud of how far we’ve come,” Pam reflects.

“I know that after so much hard work by so many people,  I Am Here is here to stay!”

I Am Here

I Am Here is an NDIS approved provider of 24/7 Supported Independent Living (SIL), respite accommodation services, and Community Respite for adults and children with acquired brain injury (ABI), cerebral palsy, physical, intellectual, and other disabilities.

We deliver our services from three locations - 6 and 18 Isabella Close Elermore Vale, and 31 Hanley Street Wallsend.

I Am Here employs over sixty Disability Support Workers and Administration staff.

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