CPA support worker volunteer smiling

Rhiannon’s CPA journey: volunteer, support worker, scholarship, therapist

Cerebral Palsy Alliance employs dozens of Speech Pathologists across over 20 therapy sites and each of their journeys are unique. For Rhiannon, speechie based at our East Maitland centre in NSW, her journey with CPA started eight years ago with a chance encounter.

Rhiannon’s interest in disability and advocacy sparked while she was living in Sydney, doing some not-for-profit volunteering work. Her other motivation for becoming a therapist was growing up in a small rural town where there weren’t many services. She wanted to provide those resources to make a difference to people in her community.

“I come from a small, rural, close-knit community. I’ve seen firsthand how people I knew and their families struggled by not being able to access the healthcare they need. Back then, Telepractice wasn’t a thing. Going into rural communities and bringing families the resources and services they typically don’t have access to is really special.”

While studying for her Bachelor of Speech Pathology in Newcastle, Rhiannon stumbled across CPA while looking for volunteer work to gain experience and meet new people.

“I walked in for a volunteer interview and walked out being hired both as a volunteer and Disability Support Worker!”

Having experience in many roles at CPA has been invaluable for Rhiannon’s approach to therapy. The Disability Support Work was a bonus; to have some paid work while she was studying, and it meshed with the clinical practice.

As a volunteer she gained well-rounded experience of the many areas within CPA; in group programs, intensive programs like Mighty Kids, LEGO therapy, and at the Escape fundraising event at Cypress Lakes, which raises essential funds for research.

“Being involved in Mighty Kids and the different groups therapists were running, I really got to know the team and how collaborative and supportive they are.”

For Rhiannon, volunteering drove home the fact that she wanted to work in physical disability:

“There wasn’t a focus on disability back then. So, it really was a big moment for me to say, yes, disability is where I want to be. I want to work for a company that has the best interests of its people and its clients at their core.”

“The volunteering for me was really eye opening and working with clients and families has been a beautiful experience. It allowed me to see CPA from lots of different angles. I’ve connected with families, worked in people’s houses and taken them out in the community. It’s given me a really holistic overview of what life is for people, the challenges they go through, and how I and CPA can make a difference in their world.”

I think that’s made me a better clinician and I think volunteering for me has really driven my passion for working within physical disability.”

In her fourth year of studying in 2018, Rhiannon was successful in receiving a scholarship placement at East Maitland. After a few years’ experience after graduation, she then found herself back at CPA last year as a therapist.

“I’m a bit of a boomerang. I think the therapy world has changed so much. Coming back to a place that feels really comfortable and supportive, and coming back to the families and helping the people I feel passionate about helping truly felt like I was coming home.”

Rhiannon’s really excited about our Early Diagnostic Clinic in the Hunter which opened last year. Being able to offer babies the absolute best intervention early on is so critical, bridging a huge gap between diagnosis and early intervention, is really special to her.

“We have a few babies coming through East Maitland and it’s really lovely to be part of that. I have a little client who’s three months old. As a Speech Pathologist we do a lot with their feeding. So even before they’re communicating, we can work on making sure that they’re safely getting as much nutrition as they can. So, we get involved from quite early on and then jump in when they’re ready to start talking.”

Rhiannon commented about CPA’s strengths is that we always rise to a challenge and work collaboratively, bringing our different knowledge and experiences to find solutions.

“I see so much passion, care and empathy in the people that I work with. When we bring all of that together, we come up with some really cool ideas. And I think that’s what helps us to make a difference. The wheels just don’t turn unless we have everyone involved.”

As an example, Rhiannon outlines the process of looking at Assistive Technology devices for someone to communicate with. She works with the OT on how to mount this to their wheelchair, and the best positioning so that they can access and press the screen or look at the screen to use eye gaze.

“East Maitland is a very collaborative. Our manager is incredible. Our CSC’s are incredible. We know our families so, so well. I just couldn’t do the job that I do without leaning on the other therapists. Everything we do is so collaborative because we work with the most complex clients and we all want the best for them.”

Find out more about Volunteering

Find out more about our therapy services at East Maitland or your nearest centre.