Paula Jennings, Chief Officer of Lisburn based charitable organisation Stepping Stones NI has celebrated 20 years in the business.
She joined Stepping Stones NI in August 1997 when it was a pilot project with only 15 trainees. It now supports well in excess of 250 people each year.
Paula has been described as the ‘driving force behind the growth and expansion of the organisation,’ which now operates six social enterprises across Lisburn, Downpatrick and Newtownards.
The organisation was established by parents, carers and the health trust to support people with learning disabilities to fully integrate into society.
Stepping Stones NI has greatly expanded its reach and impact 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.
The organisation now has 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 20 year anniversary.
She said, “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 20 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”.
Stepping Stones NI is funded through NI European Social Fund Programme and the Department for the Economy.