My AQA Volunteer Experience
The Bachelor of Health Sciences Rehabilitation Counselling degree at La Trobe University provides students the opportunity to complete placement in the final year. Students have the chance to apply the theory based learnings they obtained from the degree within a practical setting of their choice.
I discovered the Australian Quadriplegic Association (AQA) through a friend, which is an organisation that provides support and services to people with spinal cord injury (SCI). With further research through the AQA website, I decided I would love to complete my placement specifically within Spire and was fortunate enough to be given that opportunity. I was very nervous and afraid to step outside of my comfort zone as I had no experience or knowledge regarding SCI prior to commencing placement. This was a little daunting at first but I was very quickly welcomed into an accepting and supportive environment that felt a little like a family.
I quickly settled in and begun assisting with the Peer Health Coaching pilot program. I genuinely enjoyed this task as I quickly gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and skills about spinal cord injury and the services that were available. I also had plenty of help from my colleagues around me who were always happy to answer all my questions, even the silly ones!
As time went on, I began participating in external activities which really helped further strengthen the theoretical knowledge I had already gained. Although I did not have time to participate in all the events during my placement, those that I was involved in included: Community Networks, Community Living Expos, specifically What’s Out There (WOT) Days and the VALID Expo and Discovering the Power in Me (DPM).
Participating in as many events as I possibly could was one of the many highlights during my placement. I loved being able to not only learn through a practical approach but just genuinely enjoyed being part of such a positive environment!
In addition to the knowledge and skills I have developed and along with all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of meeting, I have also gained a genuine interest in pursuing a SCI focused profession post-graduation. Although I began knowing absolutely nothing about SCI and having no real idea of where I wanted to be post-graduation, this placement has genuinely been the best experience I could have hoped for and has really helped me understand where I want to go in life. It has also allowed me to work within an organisation that has a great workplace culture and an environment that fosters growth and development of the skills and knowledge that already existed along with new ones.
If I could repeat my entire placement experience, I would choose AQA again as it surpassed all my expectations. If I had to change anything, it would be to speak up sooner about my interest in participating in events, so I could go to as many events as I possibly could and to reach out to the wonderful people around me much sooner as they made me feel incredibly welcomed and appreciated.
During my second week at AQA, I had already decided that upon completing placement I would love to stay on and was fortunate enough to be asked to stay on as a volunteer. Then further to that, after a few months of volunteering with AQA Spire I was fortunate enough to be employed as a Service Partnership Coordinator with the sister organisation of Spire, AQA Qualcare!
When I had initially joined AQA for my student placement, I had not imagined I would officially enter a field I previously knew nothing about one year later – I have learnt so much about SCI and met so many wonderful people. I am very fortunate that the events in my life in the past year have led me to where I am today.