Our Chief Officer, Paula Jennings, celebrates 20 years in the business.
Paula joined Stepping Stones NI back in August 1997 when it began as a pilot project with only 15 trainees. The organisation was established by parents, carers and the health trust at the time to support people with learning disabilities to fully integrate into society. Under Paula’s steer the organisation has gone from strength to strength supporting 250 people each year.
Stepping Stones NI has greatly expanded its reach and impact under Paula’s tenure. With four core services that support people with conditions such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, learning difficulties and learning disabilities to realise their potential for a better future. Services include a Transitions Service supporting young people to make their next move out of school and a youth service that helps young people build confidence, develop friendships and plan their future. The Training and Employment Service supports people to gain meaningful training, work placements and jobs.
Paula has been the driving force behind the growth and expansion of the organisation, it now operates six social enterprises across Lisburn, Downpatrick and Newtownards. They include four café’s, a bespoke wedding stationery business and a guild commended picture framing business. The organisation has won several awards for its work over the years with Paula herself having scooped the ‘Business Person of the Year’ at the last Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council Business Awards with the organisation also securing the ‘Social Enterprise of the Year Award.
Paula was surprised by the trainees and staff with flowers and cake to mark her twenty year anniversary this week, Paula says “I am really touched by the acknowledgement from the trainees and staff. I am so proud to lead such a wonderful organisation, it’s filled with the most passionate of people who are committed to give the best support to our trainees. Seeing our trainees every day and their success is what drives me. Looking back, so much has changed in the last twenty years. Perceptions of people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties have changed. It is fantastic to see that employers and the wider community realise the true potential of people with learning disabilities or learning difficulties and we see this through their support of our work”.
Stepping Stones NI is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 and the Department for the Economy.