Executive Officer | Co-founder
Mel Spencer is a fierce autistic advocate. As a parent to 3 autistic teenagers and identifying as autistic herself, she is committed to ensuring that the world is more accomodating and accepting of the autism community, which includes supporting both the autistic individual and their family, including parents and carers. She is very passionate about making a difference and finding creative ways to overcome the challenges and obstacles that present along the way.
Her background is 18 years with the Victoria Police Force, predominantly in the area of investigations and support of victims of sexual, physical and domestic violence. She has completed a Certificate IV in Disability and Small Business Management. She has, for the past two years been the proud recipient of the State Government Women In Boards Leadership program, which connected her with the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In 2020 she was inducted into Victorian Womens Honor roll that supports outstanding achievements by women.
Mel is the co-founder and current Executive Officer of Different Journeys which she started with Merrin Ayton to ensure that her children had the opportunity to connect with a wider world than their bedrooms. Her vision for Different Journeys is to provide opportunities for our autistic community to find meaningful ways to connect and empower both themselves and their families, ensuring they have every opportunity that is afforded to them so they the can lead an fulfilling life.
Merrin has worked tirelessly in the ASD community for the past 18 years in various voluntary positions. For a seven-year period she held positions of President, Vice President and Fundraising Coordinator at Irabina Childhood Autism Services and more recently in 2015 co-founded Different Journeys with Melinda Spencer. Merrin and her husband Darren have two sons, 18 and 21, both diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Merrin has been working in the education department for over two decades, specialising in maths and science teaching for year levels 7 – 12. As Merrin navigated her way through the maze of early intervention programs, health professionals, therapists, the public and private education systems and she quickly realised how difficult the journey could be, the limitations of many of the programs on offer and the lack of supported social activities available for her boys participate in.
Jodi has been a keen volunteer over the years on many Committees. As an Aunt to three ASD kids Jodi has always been interested and keen to learn about the challenges her Nephew & Nieces face and how it will shape their future choices and opportunities. Often feeling ineffective and not knowing how to best help when challenges have occurred over the years for her Nephew and Nieces, Jodi is eager to ensure the wider community have a greater understanding of the ASD community and what we can all do to be more inclusive.
Kean is a father and step father of 4 with 3 on the spectrum.
Having studied marketing in the USA for 5 years Kean returned to Melbourne and has been in Sales and Marketing roles for the past 22 Years in some major International Companies.
Kean lived on the same street with Irabina Childhood Autism Service which his daughter attended early invention and has been fundraising for Autism every since.
Kean joined different journeys due to his passion to give kids and young adults on the spectrum every chance to succeed and to continue to give them a place for social inclusion.
Kevin is an accountant and has been a federal public servant for over 38 years. He loves golf, the mighty Cats in the AFL, test cricket; and even more importantly, taking his son Matt to the MCG and watching him play basketball. He has some fantastic lifetime memories from taking Matt and/or all his family on overseas trips to Asia and North America. He and Kerrie have been happily married for over 35 years. We all moved to the outer east in 2018 after living in the eastern suburbs all our lives. Joining the board allows Kevin to give back for all the benefits Matt enjoys being part of DJ.
Daniel is an autistic and passionate person who adopts a ‘person-first’ approach to the development of autistic youth. He strives everyday to enrich the lives of the autistic community, as well as create opportunities for individual personal development. Daniel has worked for the I Can Network for over three years, producing stronger autism advocacy and mental health outcomes for young autisitcs. Daniel has a Bachelor of Music from the Australian Institute of Music and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences from Monash University.
Jesse is a dedicated young professional who has a passion for creating tailored opportunities for young people in the community. With a vast history of work and volunteering experience behind him, Jesse will be able to help create more inclusive spaces which are accessible to all. Currently working for Interchange Outer East, Jesse has vast experiences and a detailed passion for both volunteer development and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. “I look forward to meeting, learning from, and providing support to the Different Journeys members as a board member in 2020-21”.
Ru Ying Cai
Ru is a postdoctoral researcher who is currently working at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) on various projects to better understand the experiences and support needs of autistic youth, adults, and their parents. Ru first learnt about autism 10 years ago and now she hopes to spend her life supporting autistic individuals. She has recently completed her PhD at La Trobe University with the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, examining emotion regulation and mental health in autistic youth and adults. Ru has also conducted research in autism on the topics of tertiary education, employment and financial wellbeing, presenting the findings from these research areas at national and international conferences and publishing in various international journals.
Fred has been at IOE since 1989. For Fred, becoming the CEO of the organisation ‘sort of just happened’ over the years. It was nothing he planned or ever anticipated. Fred has a Bachelor Degree in Recreation and a Graduate Diploma in Business Management. IOE is a very successful organisation with Fred at the helm for over 30 years. Naturally at home playing in mud, water on the sporting field rather than the corporate boardroom, Fred is grateful that IOE has enabled him such variety and the opportunity to engage with families across a range of actives. Being hard to please, Fred is always focused on making IOE a better and effective service for families of children and young people with disabilities. Having previously worked for three other disability organisations prior to coming to IOE, Fred has, in his role as CEO, worked to ensure that IOE has not followed the direction of the other organisations but has maintained its own path and values – a commitment which has shaped the development of IOE over the years.
As a neonatal nurse/midwife with extensive experience, I am passionate about improving the outcomes for those in my care. I first met Different Journeys (DJ) whilst struggling with the isolation and overwhelmingness of being a carer for my teenage Grandson with ASD and ADHD. The support we both received certainly changed outcomes for us in a positive way. I am now in a position to be able to give back and DJ is the perfect vehicle to facilitate this.
Risk & Policy Advisor
My skills and experience are in risk management, compliance and business in both the corporate and tertiary sectors.
I serve on two not-for-profit boards and enjoy working in this sector. I am delighted to now join Different Journey’s in the capacity of advisor on the Risk and Policy committee and contribute in a small way to the work this organisation does within their community.
I have been the Executive Assistant to the CEO at Interchange Outer East for eight years, but have worked at IOE since 2008. I am also the Chief Administration Officer with Different Journeys when Mel and Merrin needed someone to be the contact person for anyone who had enquiries via phone and manned what was originally the ‘Teen ASD’ email address. I loved learning more about the ASD community as I went, prior to this I had very little knowledge. I have learnt a ridiculous amount from everyone involved with Different Journeys and love my work with them. I am constantly inspired by those around me and appreciate the insight I am constantly given.
I am very excited about starting work with Different Journey, I think I was at a point in my life where I needed a different journey or direction. So with a name like this it is meant to be.
I have worked for Interchange as their bookkeeper for 17 ½ years. Working with Fred and all the team at IOE has made such a difference in my outlook on life on the passion so many staff and families have. Now I will be also part of the Different Journey’s team, and love the excitement that comes with what Different Journeys stands for. I feel now I would like to be involved also in some events if possible, and not just the bookkeeper. I am a mother of 3 grown daughters and now 5 grandchildren, life only gets better.
Kellie Houghton is an Occupational Therapist with over 11 years of experience who works both as a therapist and consultant. She is a mum of two young children. Kellie completed a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy and a Bachelor of Ergonomics, Safety and Health at La Trobe University. Kellie has her own business, Beyond the Book Therapy Services, working with children, teens and young adults with disabilities. Kellie has a special interest and passion for working with children and young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She saw an opportunity to be able to not only support families but to also make a change in the wider community. Kellie is committed through her paid work and volunteer hours to change the stigma of Autism, and Different Journeys not only does this but also provides actual results in meeting the needs of the Autism community – Kellie wanted to be part of this and she has been from the beginning!
Raymond is a dynamic executive consultant and coach, with proven experience in supporting organisations to better define and implement strategies that achieve success. For the past 30 years, Raymond has gained experience working across all levels of Government, the community services sector, private sector and academia. His experience includes sitting on National decision-making panels and senior evidence advisory bodies; leading major reforms in clinical and allied health services; managing state-wide implementation of client and service information systems; policy development; project management; organisational development; strategic plan facilitation and overseeing national and state-wide training initiatives.
I have lots of qualification across a range of different industries, including media, fashion, business. I always enjoy taking on new challenges and upgrading my skills. I have a huge passion for youth work, supporting people to achieve goals big and small. My aim is to run a community centre that will provide a safe and inclusive environment for people of all walks of life; fostering teenagers who need just a bit of understanding. Giving time to Different Journeys is vitally important because it is a welcoming environment. They support me and I support them back.
Angus & Rhys
Multi Marketing Solutions
This is Angus and Rhys, the team behind Multi Marketing Solutions. Since early 2020 they have been guiding our social media presence and digital marketing strategy. Their involvement with Different Journeys has been greatly beneficial, providing them with valuable insights into the digital operations of a non-profit organisation and has presented itself as an important learning experience, as neither had prior exposure to the autism community. They greatly enjoy their involvement with the Different Journeys community and are committed to Different Journeys goals of creating an accepting and inclusive atmosphere, aiming to produce content that reflects these values.