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Deb Franks: A person who knows what it’s like to be on the other side

Deb Franks is standing and looking at the camera. There is green foliage behind her

One day, Deb Franks was walking out the front door of our Bunbury office, and someone said as they motioned toward Deb: “Now, that’s someone who has a great tale to tell.” What’s there to say? We just can’t resist a good story.

A little about the journey

Deb Franks, a woman who smiles easily and speaks thoughtfully and with confidence, told us that she’s been working at Forrest Personnel – in her role as Employment Consultant in Collie – for about four years. She hails from Collie, but had spent several years in Northam, before returning to the place of her birth.

Before arriving back in her hometown, she emailed Forrest Personnel asking if we would support her to find a job. As it turned out, the position of Employment Consultant was vacant. It seems that Deb was destined for the role.

Critical incident

Deb is busy leading a very full life. A mere two years in, she suffered acute misfortune when she innocently crawled through a fence and fell into a pit of burning coal resulting in third degree burns. When asked how she escaped, she explained that: “A miner saw me through the window of a bus and rescued me by pulling me out of the pit.” The agony of severe burns at any age is unimaginable, never mind for someone who is two.

What does she remember?

We wanted to know what memories – if any – she has from this experience of trauma sustained in infancy. “I have flashbacks and experience phantom pains,” she told us.

Deb survived numerous surgeries including to her hands and feet. She shows us her limbs without embarrassment or shame. Her undaunted spirit is clearly a testament to what’s possible after a difficult beginning in life.

Research into trauma

Our curiosity about the impact of trauma led us to the work of two US-based psychologists, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, at the University of North Carolina. They discovered that the majority of trauma survivors they interviewed for their research reported lives that had changed for the better.

Defining qualities

Given that Deb’s life-changing accident happened when she was an infant, knowing if her life changed for the better is probably an unknown. So, we looked for insights into Deb’s life and found a host of them in her resume. It’s expansive and is indicative of a life lived with enthusiasm and commitment. There’s a profile that spells out her belief that: “If you can help someone then you should, and if you can’t help, then find someone who can.” There’s also a section (that’s bursting) on achievements in the community (including being the manager of six basketball teams), and a list of personal skills and attributes. It’s in this section that we spot descriptive words and phrases including “determined” and “resilience in times of challenge.”

These are clearly qualities that help propel people forward in life. But, they’re also crucial attributes for someone – like Deb – who is working to support people to find and keep jobs that are sustainable. This is no easy feat no matter if the economy is robust or not.

Deb Franks and Kaylah Bolin are standing, smiling and looking at the camera

Deb Franks and participant Kaylah Bolin at Forrest Personnel in Collie

“I do know what it’s like”

We wanted to know how these qualities, no doubt developed as a result of her life’s experiences, have informed her work. She told us that: “I know what it’s like to be on the other side. I have experienced the prejudices and the stereotypes and know how people feel. Therefore, I understand the roadblocks that are put in place and I can support people to find their way.”

She concluded by telling us that: “When job seekers sit across from me and say: “You don’t know what it’s like.” I most definitely can say: “I do know what it’s like.”


Feature photo: Deb Franks in the garden of the City of Bunbury main administration building, November 2020 by Rob Cox, oxy images

Forrest Personnel is a local charity. We specialise in supporting people with health conditions, injuries and disabilities to find and keep jobs.

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