Student stories

RHED student at the Cridge Centre for the Family

Simon Page

Cridge Centre for the Family

Hear from Simon Page, a recreation and health education student, who spent a work term at the Cridge Centre for the Family Brain Injusry Services as a recreation/community support worker.

During my third cooperative education work term in the Recreation and Health Education Degree program at the University of Victoria, I worked for The Cridge Centre for the Family Brain Injury Services as a Recreation/Community Support Worker at MacDonald House, which is a ten-bed residence for adult survivors of traumatic brain injury (TBI). My job was to support the residents of MacDonald House to get out of the house and into the community. 

This was my first experience in working with people with head injuries, and I learned a whole lot in my four months at MacDonald House that could aid me in future career endeavors, including the following: learning of the barriers between people with disabilities and recreation services in the community, supporting head injury survivors in the community; communicating with people with varying speech, conversation, and cognitive abilities; distributing time and effort equitably between the residents; being a calm and rational influence through certain residents’ outbursts of anger; and, as much as possible, planning outings and activities that contributed to the fulfillment of the individual program plan of each resident.

Possibly the most important experience I gained working at MacDonald House was learning how to modify my own behavior, language, and communication styles to better interact with TBI survivors.  For example, there are certain characteristics that some TBI survivors are likely to display, such as short tempers, lack of executive functioning, and poor memory.  Thus part of being an effective support worker included adapting the environment to help the residents be successful in the community; for example, finding a quiet corner of a coffee shop to play cribbage, rather than near the counter where there are many distractions. 

One challenge I faced during this past work term was keeping each of the very different personalities and interests of the men at MacDonald House in mind when planning how to distribute my time at the house.  My services were in high demand, since community support workers are recognized by many of the residents as their “ticket out the door” (many of the residents are unable to get out into the community on their own, because of an impairment in one or more of mobility, cognition, or behaviour).  Being depended on to this extent was certainly challenging because, as my supervisor told me, “you don’t necessarily have to be well liked to be doing a good job”.  However challenging, this dependence also allowed me to gain some valuable experience in prioritizing my time and efforts so that the needs of each resident was met, not just the most vocal men.  At times I simply could not support all the resident’s needs at once; however, this challenge also helped me to begin to distinguish between “learned helplessness” and a genuine need for aid.

Being a Community/Recreation Support Worker for the past four months was an overall positive experience, especially since I was often being paid to have fun—the outings that I accompanied residents on included: going to the gym, to the pool, for coffee and meals, to the mall, and to the Ogden Point breakwater.   In conclusion, this past work term was highly rewarding, both in being involved in helping people do the things they enjoy but cannot do on their own, and in the fact that I was getting paid to do things I’d do on my own time for fun. 

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