A dedicated advice expert has been hailed for his ‘immense contribution’ as he celebrates 30 years of helping around 25,000 Hartlepool people.
Joe Michna joined the town’s Citizens Advice Bureau, where he is manager, in 1988 and since then has gone on to help an estimated 25,000 people with their problems.
He says he still gets a buzz out of the job even after turning 65 in January and having to adjust to life in a wheelchair after losing a leg in 2015.
Joe said: “This job, with all its ups and downs gives me immense job satisfaction.
“I still get a buzz when I arrive at the office each morning.”
Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “Joe deserves recognition and praise for the immense contribution he has made in helping the most vulnerable people of the town over many, many years.
“It is also important to recognise his dedication throughout his tenure as manager to maintaining the town’s CAB as a vibrant and welcoming centre.”
Hartlepol MP Mike Hill also paid tribute. He said: “Without a shadow of a doubt I can honestly say that over the years he and his team have helped out tens of thousands of people in need of help and support.
“Hartlepool was one of the early implementors of Universal Credit and I know that led to a massive increase in workload for Joe and his colleagues.
“Small wonder that in 2017 they helped over 5000 people and dealt with 13,566 queries online and via the office on Park Road.
“Joe is a true professional and genuinely caring person who has made a real difference to people’s lives.”
During his three decades with the advice service, Joe says clients have only ever raised their fists to him twice, including one when he was in his wheelchair.
Around three quarters of requests for help the office receives are to do with benefit entitlement and for help to manage debt.
Joe has also represented around 180 people at employment tribunals.
He said: “There are so many I can recall but perhaps the one which sticks in my mind is when I represented a client at an employment tribunal in the late 1990s and we won a case of unfair dismissal and pretty blatant discrimination and my client was awarded £35,000 in compensation.”
When Joe joined the service as deputy manager in February 1988, it was based in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.
He became manager the following year.
One of his proudest moments was securing a £500,000 lottery grant in 1999 to build the service’s Park Road offices.
“I am also proud of our excellent Debt Advice Team and also our Housing Advice and Tenancy Support staff who help homeless people find accommodation.”
In 2015, Joe lost his left leg after developing an infection, but was back at work just two weeks later.
He said: “I could not wait to return to work. Although there are many things I cannot now do, I do not see myself as disabled.
“I also have the protestant work ethic in me.”
He arrives at work at about 7am and is driven home to Middlesbrough at about 6.30pm.
Joe said his greatest challenge is securing enough funding so the service can continue to stay open, adding any donations would be gratefully received.
He praised his co-workers and trustee board members for their great work and support.