Tony Hawkins is someone who will leave a mark in your life from the moment you meet him.

He is described by many of his friends, family members and Tamworth locals as an inspiration to people with a disability and to the community he lives in. Tony’s vivacious energy, charisma and commitment to bettering the lives of others has made him a bit of a celebrity at Challenge Community Services. It’s just one of the reasons we saw it fitting to award him for his community work at our 60th year celebration of Challenge Community Services in Tamworth recently.

Like many who come through our doors to access our disability support services, Tony was looking for the support that allows him to live the life of his choice. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy and born with congenital anophthalmia – which means he was born without eyes – Tony has become a beacon for others who are chasing their goals and seeking the confidence to become more independent and involved in their community.

Today, Tony hosts his own radio show for 88.9fm, a local station, and creates braille menus for cafes and restaurants in Tamworth. He has created braille menus for over 69 local restaurants to help others, like Tony, feel empowered to make their own choices when they go out for a meal.

“At Challenge, we help Tony with his transport needs, his visual aids as far as reading out menus for him to create, we help him to order his favourite foods when he has a meal out in public and basically, we’re just there to be Tony’s friend and help him when he needs it,” Tony’s Supervisor at Challenge Connexions, Aaron Hoad said.

“Tony is a massive inspiration to everyone here.”

Tony couldn’t speak more highly of Aaron and of Andrew Ryan, who is his Support Worker.

 “Andrew also helps me with going to the gym and going to the radio station,” Tony said.  “I would recommend Challenge because of the social aspects between the workers and the participants. I want to thank them for their support over the years I’ve been here and in the future.”

Helping Tony and others who enter our disability services to achieve the confidence and skills to live independently is very important to us at Challenge Community Services. We know how important access to life skills, volunteer opportunities, community activities, education, employment, transport and other services are to help people do the things they love without barriers.

Our focus is on working with each individual to find the right supports for their unique situation. We often find that the immediate period after someone finishes school is the ideal time to work with them to identify their passions, skills and interests and create a network of supports and routine that compliments them.

For Tony, accessing his community, making a contribution, eating out and going to the gym were important to him. For Tony’s mum, Jill Hawkins, the services we provide have also helped support the important role that she and her husband play in Tony’s life.

“Challenge supports Tony’s needs and he has such wonderful support workers that he has a good relationship with, and that’s a sense of relief for my husband and I, and for Tony’s brothers,” Jill said.

Last year was a special year for Challenge, marking our 60th anniversary. We put the achievement of reaching such a grand anniversary down to the carers, staff and clients like Tony who we work with every day.

If you or a loved one are looking at your options for accessing independence, like Tony did, after school, please download a copy of our free ebook Resources to Help Navigate Life After School