Casa Serena says goodbye to Grace

Casa Serena is a respite centre in Brisbane

Whoever steps into Casa Serena, a respite centre in Stafford, instantly notices an imponent tree made of gnarled cardboard, polystyrene, and paper lying in the corner.

One could argue that this piece has grown robust over time, establishing roots and capturing smiles from numerous faces. Coincidence or not, the strong tree has become an accurate reflection of its creator, Grace Pennisi.

The intense and passionate coordinator leaves Co.As.It. Community Services after 11 years with the feeling of duty accomplished and a new family that has grown through time.

“The clients and staff in the centres are like family. What I do is not a job. It has never been a job. We actually do it from the heart and make thousands of lives better. Our clients are an extended part of our family,” says Grace.

“I didn’t think this would be something that I would enjoy doing. I had been a hairdresser for 27 years when I did a florist-free course and a barista course. I used to do flowers and coffee, and I thought that was all.”

After years in a different industry and driven by her sister, Grace finally decided to join Co.As.It. as a community care worker providing in-home services. However, her willingness to connect with the clients and the staff at the respite centre was vital for the transition.

“I have learned so much as working in the centre has expanded on my abilities, things that I thought I wasn’t able or capable of doing, like driving a bus. Now, I really push myself to do it,” she says.

It is not only a matter of overcoming fears but also being empathetic and connecting with people. Holding tears, Grace emphasises that her work is not a job but a mix of feelings that simple words can’t describe. When a client is in the hospital sick, or unfortunately, when someone passes away, it requires strength to cross somebody off the attendance sheet, Grace describes.

“My message for the staff is that our clients are not a number. These people have lived a full life, and you’re here to give them some dignity. Give them some time to enjoy. Think of them as if it was your family member.”

There are countless memories that Grace will carry on her from now on: the activities with the clients, the songs, the acclaimed “chicken dance”, and the eternal gratitude for her two mentors, Helena and Rose.

“Rose and Helena, I can’t thank them enough. They took me under their wings. They taught me everything I know. I don’t think I would have lasted as a coordinator without their support,” says Grace.

“Rose has always supported my ideas and encouraged me to put them into practice. She is a true inspiration. Helena, on the other hand, taught me how to send emails and how to use my phone and computer. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without her.”

“Now, it is time for me to enjoy my family and life,” she concludes.

On the 26 June, Casa Serena was decorated for a last farewell to Grace Pennisi. Co.As.It. Community Services wants to thank you for everything. We will truly miss you – enjoy your retirement.