Compass Trainee since: 2015
When we were first looking at options for Nienna after finishing at Special School, the most important thing for us was finding somewhere that would help her work towards more independence.
When you first meet Nienna, she appears a shy, sensitive and gentle soul. She radiates happiness from within as she looks away and tucks her head endearingly into her shoulder and smiles at you.
Her stepdad John explains, “She can be very shy, mostly because of her trouble with speech and communication, but she’s also really social.”
“She’ll chew your ear off if she knows you!” he laughs.
“She loves music, singing and dancing – she’s a HUGE fan of dancing! We’ll often find her dancing in the mirror at home to music videos and to poppy dance stuff like Taylor Swift and high school musical. She just loves it.”
It’s amazing how different experiences and opportunities can help to really allow people to shine.
Throughout the photoshoot for this project, Nienna would ‘unfurl’ like a flower when she was pampered and given a spotlight to perform with her favourite music on. Her playful, happy-go-lucky nature shone as brightly as the joy in her eyes.
John tells me that Nienna wasn’t always this way.
“Believe it or not, Nienna used to have regular and violent outbursts,” he explains.
“That’s definitely not happening as much anymore, and a huge contributor to that has been Compass not babying her, which is SO important to us.”
This is a common reflection from families, who often express just how life-changing it is for them and their sons or daughters to be given an opportunity for ongoing learning, development and growth as opposed to feeling that they are just being baby-sat.
“When we were first looking at options for Nienna after finishing at Special School, the most important thing for us was finding somewhere that would help her work towards more independence,” reflects John.
“She will always need someone to support her, but we like to push her, and Compass allows her to do that.
“Compass has been great at listening to us – we tell them that she can do certain things even if at times she might pretend she can’t, and they help us push her in the way we feel is best for her. Other carers we’ve had over the years we’ve found wouldn’t listen and would just do everything for her.
“We treat her like an adult and so does Compass. All of the staff have been great as pushing her to do what she can do for herself.”
It’s this kind of encouragement and positive reinforcement, from all sides and over time, where you see the most incredible changes happen.
Nienna has been attending Compass five days a week since 2015.
“We’ve kept Nienna at Compass every day as it’s her happy place,” says John. “She’ll often get really upset if she can’t come!
“She’s become a lot more confident and is putting herself out there more, her speech has improved a lot, as has her ability to find and use her voice. She’s also matured a lot and is taking on more responsibility at home.
“We also love that the staff know her so well. They pick up on all of the subtle nuances with her, which takes time, care and attention to develop.”
It’s clear in talking to the staff at Compass Nambour where Nienna attends, that they absolutely adore her.
“She bounds in every morning ready to go and tackle a new day,” says Nambour staff member, Kylie Grover.
“She just loves Compass so much and loves the other Trainees. She’s so helpful to them and is really empathetic and caring, always trying to help others.
“If she sees someone in need, she’s the first person there and will do anything she can to support them.”
When we ask Nienna what she loves about Compass, the first things she talks about is the people – both the staff and trainees, who she all calls friends. She also tells us she loves doing Aikido (martial arts), gardening, swimming, Walking Warriors (our walking program) – and even cleaning!
And if she can’t come to Compass or has to miss a day? Nienna points to her eye and makes the Auslan sign for crying.
For Nienna, attending Compass is an opportunity to both explore and express herself with agency and independence, and to be supported in that process. Her voice is heard and her team of biggest fans are all there to help her achieve her wants and goals – wants and goals that are largely the same as all of us – to grow, to learn, to play and to belong.
This story was written by Compass team member, Sandra Brodie, through interviews and contributions from Nienna’ Stepdad John, some of Nienna’s support staff at Compass and Nienna herself through communication supports.