“I can’t leave uni; I’m always looking for new things”.
This statement sums up Sandra Bell’s attitude towards learning, giving back to her community and making a difference. After leaving school at 15, Sandra explains her parents encouraged her to get a good job as a secretary or bookkeeper.
Raising her family, Sandra volunteered at her children’s school but one day after dropping her son’s friend home, she noticed his mother rushing to attend university lectures.
“It was my light bulb moment and I started to ask questions of how did you get to do that?”
With education as her first preference, Sandra received an offer for her second preference to the Bachelor of Human Services – Child and Family Studies in 2002. Student life was confronting as “those first six months are a real make or break. I started to learn very quickly what it means to write a quality assignment”.
After navigating the minefields of first year, Sandra decided to study part-time. “I knew I was going to achieve my goal regardless so I decided to stretch it out a little bit. My family also bore this sacrifice because really it’s not just me studying: it’s my family who also study”.
Volunteering and giving back feature prominently in Sandra’s life. During her student years, she acted as a note-taker for a student with a disability and was part of the inaugural Mentoring program for the School of Human Services and Social Work, giving advice to first years. Offering insight, she explains, “By the time you get to third year you are far more confident and you know how things are and I also recognised how difficult it was for me being that first year student so I really wanted to give back”.
Her volunteer work for St Vincent de Paul’s Child and Family Program allowed Sandra to visit homes and offer support to families and staff. After graduation, Sandra dreamt of a holiday but when a job opportunity with The Spot Community Services (The Spot) presented itself, it was too good to turn down. Within three months, Sandra was promoted from family worker to team leader and ultimately within the year became the Coordinator of the Family Support Unit. Involved in diverse projects, Sandra was promoted then to Programs Manager at The Spot, and managed the youth support program, developed an after-school outside hours service and supported the Operations Manager in developing policies and procedures for the entire organisation.
After seven years, Sandra made the most difficult decision to move to the next career chapter. Accepting a position as a Humanitarian Housing Worker, Sandra was confronted with an entirely different experience being challenged with organisational problems whilst assisting refugees and newly arrived migrants with housing.
In early 2012, Sandra returned to her first love as a Team Leader – Family Steps, Family Intervention Services at Inala Community House. No day is ever the same and often presents challenges.
“I think that every experience you have keeps you learning”.
“A typical day could involve taking someone to drug and alcohol treatment, there might be mental health counselling, transporting a client, in home parenting support, or sourcing food and clothing”.
Sandra encourages her team to always look at other ways to support clients. “We always consider if clients have other passions or interests. We try to pull it all apart and work out a client’s strength base and look at what knowledge and skills they already have. There’s so much more behind it and I think that’s vital in the work we do”.
This philosophy extends to the student placements at Inala Community House. “They really experience what it is like to be a family worker and the work prepares them for when they graduate”.
So what does Sandra believe is the key piece of advice to our new graduates?
“The key to your career is doing more than just your study.”
“Applicants always score big points if they have volunteered and give something extra and show they are really keen to get into this area. Show me that you have those skills to reinforce what you have learnt”.
Top tips from Sandra
- While at uni do more than just study
- First six months at uni are make or break – make sure you balance your life.
- Volunteer and give something extra to boost your employment prospects