How can practicum students contribute to a team of psychologists and social workers to gain practical experience in their chosen discipline while improving their knowledge about supporting persons with disabilities? Vecova Professional Supports is a team of psychologists and a social worker providing a range of psychological and social work supports for persons with developmental disabilities and their support networks.
Heather Menaldo is a practicum student working with Vecova Professional Supports who shared some insight into how her practicum placement at Vecova makes a difference.
V: What is your role at Vecova?
HM: I am a Social Work practicum student with the Professional Supports Team. I am currently finishing up my Master of Social Work with a clinical specialization at the University of Calgary. Part of that process is to fulfill a field practicum before I graduate. I started here at Vecova in September and will be here until April. What do I do? With supervision from my supervisor Tom Zaniecki I offer individual counselling, consultation and help co-facilitate our Tuesday relationships group and Wednesday Journeys group. I’m looking forward to help Tom with the Dating 101 group that starts on Mondays in January as well!
V: What interested you in coming to Vecova?
HM: I actually worked at “the V” (it was VRRI then) approximately four years ago when I first moved to Calgary. At that time I worked as part of the coverage team. I’ve been working in different ways with people with disabilities for about 12 years. It’s the reason I went back to school to get my Masters of Social Work. I had great experiences working with Vecova the last time around and getting to finish up here with my practicum seems a fitting experience for the final year of my education.
V: How does the work you do improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities?
HM: I think sometimes people, with or without disability, need some extra supports to address issues that may come up for them on the day to day. These issues may affect them personally, in their relationships with others (loved ones and staff), and in the greater community. Addressing these issues, as seen within the context of the Professional Supports Team, allows for people’s stories to be told and listened to. This relationship in itself often makes all the difference in the day to day living of people who may not always feel heard. As a social worker, there is also a social justice piece to our work that allows for advocacy for our clients. This may be assisting them to speak up for themselves, it may be negotiating issues within their family and support networks, it may be advocating for them and their funding to the government and larger community. Engaging with and in the lives of persons with disabilities, this relationship piece, is key in improving quality of life, in my opinion.
V: Has there been an experience at Vecova that helped you understand why the work you do is so important for persons with disabilities?
HM: I can’t really pinpoint just one experience. Everyday I’m here I learn something new, or at least gain a new perspective on something I “thought” I knew. Coming from a lot of years of academic preparation to get into this type of role I find that this work is so important as it is not acknowledged, gets lost in translation or discounted. In my classes, I am often the only person talking about working with persons with disabilities. There is such a need for more information and research around this type of work and it is exciting to see that Vecova is contributing research to the gap in knowledge that exists around certain services with persons with disabilities.
V: What do you hope to bring to Vecova – what impact do you hope to have?
HM: Tom, my supervisor, often talks about being “an agent of change.” I think this can take many forms, some more obvious than others. I think anytime a “new” person comes into any situation there is a capacity to learn and grow. The act of being there, being present, is occasionally all it needs to “shake up” the system a bit. I hope to do just that, be here, present and have some positive impact on the clients that I will get to meet in the course of my practicum.