Published On: 23 February 2022Categories: Stories

Jerome Tkalac (above) had missed the first three years of high school and, by his own admission, was “a lost cause” as he filled his days watching TV or fishing until an unexpected phone call changed his life for good.

The Reece High School welfare check in 2020 led to Jerome, then 16, going to Devonport’s Indie School which eventually resulted in a traineeship with Loaves and Fishes Tasmania.

Now 18, Jerome is considered management material after surprising Loaves and Fishes staff with his work ethic, attitude and aptitude for all things warehousing related.

“I went to Reece High School at the start of Year 7 for six days and then never went back,” Jerome said.

“I didn’t like it, so I just stopped going. I had some learning difficulties and just didn’t like being told what to do.

“I regret it now.”

Jerome, who was living with his single mother at the time, had lived in various places across the State as his family separated and his mother sought work. They struggled financially. Jerome tried to help out with casual work as a fruit picker, but most of the time went fishing or watched television.

What do you want to do with your life?

When asked what he wanted to do with his life, Jerome told the Reece High School counsellor that he wanted to join a cousin at Devonport’s Indie School which specialises in intensive one-on-one learning for students with behavioural and learning difficulties.

“They give you a test at Indie and I scored 0 out of 100. A month later I got 87,” Jerome said.

“They helped me get my learner’s permit, and then one day they asked if anyone wanted to apply for a traineeship with Loaves and Fishes, either as a cook working out of the kitchen or in warehousing.

“I chose warehousing,” Jerome said.

“I remember I was shaking and stuttering when I rang Loaves and Fishes about the job.”

He spent a few weeks sorting spuds, turning up sporadically, and largely showing indifference to the work and the cause.

“I didn’t really care at the start.

“But Dan (former warehouse manager Dan Kropf) saw something in me and persisted, taking me under his wing and teaching me how the warehouse runs.

“I started to get interested and decided to give it a go.

“I listened and took in what they were saying.

“I like my job. The people are laid back and the work is varied.”

Embracing the cause

Part time work led to a traineeship in 2022 as Jerome took on more responsibility and embraced the cause of delivering food and hope to Tasmanians doing it tough.

He is working towards getting his forklift and driver’s licences. Loaves and Fishes arranged to get a learner driver mentor through parent organisation, Devonport Chaplaincy.

Jerome, who has three brothers and a sister, can identify with those who are struggling to eat, admitting there were times when he and his mother needed help from emergency food relief agencies such as Loaves and Fishes.

“I used to make emergency food hampers and didn’t take much notice of what went in them or where they were going,” he said.

“Now I make sure we put in as much as we can because I know how much these people need help.

“It’s important that we do a good job.”

Loaves and Fishes general manager Aaron Kropf said the organisation existed to help young people like Jerome.

“We work with Devonport Chaplaincy to make sure trainees have support, including access to mentoring which makes a big difference in the transition to work,” he said.

“The turnaround in Jerome has been remarkable.

“He was unimpressive at the start, but then, with a bit of encouragement it clicked, and now he has the capability of being warehouse manager one day.

“He has loads of commonsense and picks things up so quickly.”

By Paul O’Rourke

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