A caring woman from Powys is in the running for a top award after stepping into the breach to cook for a group of young people with autism.
Karen Saunders will be a shortlisted finalist at the Wales Care Awards in a category for Commitment to Quality in Housekeeping and Hospitality.
The at Cardiff City Hall on November 17 will be hosted by Wynne Evans, famed for his Go Compare advertisements on TV, who also has a daily show on Radio Wales.
Karen was nominated by Nickki Martin, facility manager at sites run by the Orbis Education and Care Group, which has several centres in South Wales and a programme of expansion. It also has a charity shop staffed by service users at Porth in the Rhondda.
Describing Karen, Nickki said: “She’s a legend.”
Karen had held several responsible posts in the social care sector in England, including as an assessor, when she relocated to Powys. She started at Bronllys, Brecon, in March last year, originally as a housekeeper. But when the home became without a chef she immediately stepped into the breach, and is now seeking professional qualifications.
She cooks daily for about nine young people, mainly boys whose ages range from eight to 20, and for staff – 30 people in all. “Everything is home cooked,” she said proudly. “Also I encourage them to eat salads and plenty of fruit. I love my job. Two previous chefs went and I was asked to step in. From my previous jobs I’m used to menus and ordering food.”
Karen, who has a 27-year-old daughter and is married to a self-employed plumbing and heating engineer, lives at Llandrindod Wells. Since she moved to Powys she’s adopted a new hobby – birdwatching. “I’ve counted 32 species in my own back garden since coming to live here.”
Her feelings about being nominated for an award: “I’m over the moon to tell you the truth,” she replied.
“It’s so nice that people appreciate you. I’m overwhelmed – I just thought I was doing my job.”
Some of the young residents have particular problems and Karen reaches out to try and make their lives more fulfilling.
Nickki is ecstatic in her praise.
She said: “She’s absolutely fantastic; from the time she started she hit the ground running and fitted in so well.
“Karen is an amazing person, going above the beyond her duties, there are really no words to describe how good she is. She’s a legend, and so many people speak highly of her.
“She gets to know the children’s schedules, their likes and dislikes, and how to enable them to achieve little bits of independence, which is so important.
“Some of our children face so many challenges, but Karen is there to help them. Nothing is too much trouble for her.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.
He said: “The event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.
“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.
“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.
“It is a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”