New job has turned Kurt’s life around

Kurt Balzer, who took part in the disability employment program now works at North Ballina Smash Repairs.
Kurt Balzer, who took part in the disability employment program now works at North Ballina Smash Repairs. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

KURT Balzer has a rare degenerative condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease that affects his nervous system and muscles.

It makes it incredibly difficult for him to do some tasks that most of us take for granted, but it hasn't stopped him jumping headlong into a traineeship in panel beating and spray painting.

Kurt was doing some work experience at North Ballina Smash Repairs and was offered a job as part of a campaign The Northern Star was proudly part of, to find 50 jobs in 30 days for people in the Northern Rivers with a disability.

He is now undertaking a two year traineeship that includes two days in the workshop and a couple of days at TAFE.

Kurt's mother, Maureen O'Mara said the job had "given him purpose, given him goals and given him direction".

North Ballina Smash Repairs' owner Neil Chalker said having Kurt around had been good for morale for

everyone there.

"We got him in as a bit of a roustabout to do everything, but he took a liking to the painting side because I think it's easier for him in the wheelchair.

"I've got two panel beaters and an apprentice spray painter and they all work as a team and Kurt is just the nicest bloke," he said.

Nathan Wills from Epic employment consultancy has been assisting with Kurt's traineeship and was able to get him a work-only wheelchair that can get dirty and covered with paint.

"It seems to be working out really well for him. He's progressing in everything that he's doing," Mr Wills said.

"He's got good paint skills, even though he's restricted to the chair... At the end of the traineeship he will have a qualification that he can take with him, or even start his own business. He's got a good thing going on here."

Kurt said he would like to keep working where he is for as long as possible.

Maureen said Kurt would "never say never and never let anything get in his way".

"If he can't do something the normal way he'll find his own way and the guys out there are happy to help him let that happen."


OPINION: Helping people like Kurt get jobs helped make ours worthwhile

WITH daily news being what it is, sometimes working for a newspaper can leave you feeling like you are bearing witness to a parade of the world's problems.

However, it also means some days you not only get to see the best of people, but you get to help improve people's lives.

Today is one of those days.

A couple of months ago, The Northern Star took part in the 50 jobs in 30 days campaign, which was specifically aimed at helping people with disabilities find work.

The campaign - backed by the Federal Government along with the Max, Nortec, CRS, Chess and Tursa employment services - was a dazzling success with an impressive 125 people being offered jobs across the course of the campaign.

It was an outstanding effort by all involved and a great result by any standards. That's even truer when you consider that among the people with disabilities searching for work on the Northern Rivers were people such as Tracy Barrell who has won two Paralympic gold medals, but still says finding a job was the hardest thing she's ever had to do.

"People sometimes talk to me like I'm deaf. I say 'I'm missing my legs, not my ears'," she told The Star at the beginning of the campaign.

While the numbers are pleasing, it's the stories of people like Kurt Balzer that really bring home the importance of this campaign.

Kurt suffers from a rare condition that would stop many in their tracks, but he's taken to his job as a trainee with North Ballina Smash Repairs with energy and enthusiasm, earning him the admiration of his employer while improving his own quality of life.

Frankly, if Kurt had been the only person to get a job out of that campaign, it would still have been worthwhile. Instead there are 125 Kurts out there, for whom the world is a slightly better place.


Topics:  business disability employment

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