Ella and vincent show us that when there isn't a role that makes sense - it's not that hard to create one!
Ella and Vincent, are reminding us of something important. They are reminding us that the common misconception that you need to have a higher level of abilities to be able to have a valued role that impacts positively on other people’s lives is a load of absolute rubbish.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what level of skills or abilities that you start with, it doesn’t matter if you can’t cook a meal, take yourself to the bathroom, read a rule book, cross a road safely or use a computer, everyone has something of value to offer. Ella and Vincent remind us that if you surround yourself with people who know you well, who think with and about you, who see the best bits of you and who can work with you to imagine something better and expect more, then good things will happen.
When you meet Ella it doesn’t take long to realise that it is very easy to like her. She is a loving and friendly person who especially loves young kids and a lot of the things associated with them, like music and books. Ella does have some issues in her life, she needs a lot of support to manage things each day and she doesn’t have a lot of language skills. This is to the point where a lot of her support needs to be at a one to one level. It would be easy to think that most of Ella’s days at her Day Service could be spent looking after her needs and engaging her in a range of activities and programs. But it is clear to us that Ella wants more than that, she wants to meet and know people, she wants to help people, she wants to be in friendly relationships and just like anyone else she wants to be important in more peoples lives.
When we were looking at opportunities for Ella it was pretty easy to see when she visited the library that she was drawn to the Children’s Storytime that was happening at the time and she was keen to be part of what was happening. Ella with the support of our staff member Liz, approached the librarians and asked if Ella could take up a volunteer role with the children’s Storytime sessions. It didn’t take long, and Ella now has that role. At the library’s Storytime Ella is now an official volunteer, she has formal identification, she helps select and deliver the books and craft items to the group and she sits with the group to assist with different tasks. But it can get better than that. Liz is now planning to work with the Library to get to a point where Ella can occasionally tell the kids a story herself. It might sound tough but it’s not really. Stories can be recorded on a Big Mac Switch so that Ella can read the stories to the kids, by turning the pages on the book and pressing the switch to play the recording that says the words. Ella is already using the Bid Mac to announce the acknowledgement of Country at the start the sessions.
What a fantastic impact Ella is having. For herself she has an important and valuable role which will hopefully expand in the future. Undoubtedly our main interest here is the difference it makes in Ella’s life, but I can’t help but sit back and say ‘good on you Ella… what you are doing for these kids is absolutely fantastic’. Before they get anywhere near a kinder or school they are meeting someone who has a lot of different needs who is taking on important roles. Ella, as this opportunity develops, will be showing them that peoples language and listening is not always about someone speaking words. Most importantly she is showing them that someone who has a significant level of disability can just be an ordinary and valued part of their day; Ella is showing them that difference is ok. Way to go Ella!!
Vincent has been with us at Milparinka for a while now. We love Vincent, because… well, he is Vincent, and that makes it easy. Vincent loves people and even though he has a limited range of words to use, he loves talking about his favourite topic, trains. Vincent has high needs and like Ella needs a lots of help to get through each day with a significant number of his supports being at a one to one level. The main thing Vincent loves, and he missed terribly during Covid, is going on train rides. Now that things are freed up he is keen to get out and about on the trains whenever he can.
A group of staff began working with Vincent to see if they could add even more interest and purpose to his train trips for him. Going for a train ride is great on its own but they wanted to try and bring more value and interest to Vincent. You may be aware that each of the main stations in Melbourne, Flinders and Spencer St, have free books libraries. These libraries are looked after by the Travellers Aide staff who provide support to passengers.
Vincent, and our staff, met with the Travellers Aide staff to see if Vincent could have a role in helping the libraries stay stocked up as they had noticed that the libraries constantly needed more books. The travellers aid staff were wrapped to meet someone who was interested in this and welcomed Vincent with open arms. At first, to test things out, and to see if Vincent liked this idea he was supported to take books from our supplies to the libraries in the city. He loved it, who knows what part he loved most? It might have been the fact he was taking the books to help other people and then had a role stacking the shelves, or more likely it was because a whole range of new and consistent people came into his life who now know who he is and welcome him into their circles. Vincent also gets to sit down and have a drink and lunch in the travellers lounge where more people know his name, say hello and have a chat. But it gets better, we don’t want to give away all of our books, so Vincent with our staff, approached Savers, a large Op Shop, who are now providing Vincent with weekly supplies of books, free of charge to use in the libraries. Vincent gets to pick those up and meet the people there regularly as well. It doesn’t stop there, as the Travellers Aide staff have gotten to know Vincent and see his reliability and interest they are offering new roles like assisting with picking up and transferring between stations, equipment and other resources that they use to assist train users.
To be honest Vincent is not someone who may ever to be able to hold down a job, he has some very significant needs. But so what. Vincent is setting an example, he is doing something of value that gets him to meet and know more people, a lot of them who share his interest in trains, and he is doing something that many of us will never get to do; he is doing something that brings enjoyment and makes difference for a whole lot of people that he will never meet. Any of us would be proud to able to say we could do that.
Some of the things I am reminded of when I think about what Ella and Vincent are doing:
- When someone has an interest like these guys it can lead to lots of opportunities to find valued roles that brings more into their lives. If someone likes kids books they don’t need to just spend their day sitting around reading those books or if they like trains, you can do more than just go for rides …. as long as they have people around you who think deeply and are not just providing support. It’s a lesson the NDIS could learn.
- The community is still full of generous, giving and welcoming people and places, especially when we introduce people one person at time who share interests with them.
- We shouldn’t be afraid to create. Neither of the roles that Ella of Vincent have developed existed before. They came about because people know them well and reached out to have conversations with people who could make things happen.