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.

Celebrating life: Valentino reaches 102

Valentino Pozzetti celebrates his birthday at Casa Aurelia in Acacia Ridge.

An article is definitely not enough to do justice to the stories of Valentino Pozzetti’s 102 years of life. Owner of a captivating smile and strong charisma, Valentino commemorated his life milestone at Casa Aurelia surrounded by friends and family on April 9.

The WW2 veteran rules out the myth behind the secret of longevity. “There is no formula to live a long life; it is only sacrifice. It is a constant battle that you fight over your entire life,” says Valentino. As time goes by, he says, the body simply grows stronger.

Valentino knows exactly what a battle is. At 20 years of age, he was sent to fight in Russia alongside the Italian army during the most lethal conflict in human history: World War Two. After the war, Valentino embarked on a new chapter, packing his belongings and crossing the ocean in search of a fresh start. ‘I have a wonderful life in Australia. I’ve never regretted a moment,’ he reflects, a testament to his adventurous spirit and positive outlook.

It was in Australia that Valentino built his life and formed a family. “My grandpa is simply amazing. He is a man of many good stories. It is a privilege to have him in our lives. He has always been there for us,” says Valentino’s granddaughter, Sarah.

Social Group

Valentino had always been reluctant to join Casa Aurelia or any other social group for his age group. He wanted to mingle with younger people. “I remember asking my daughter what I would be doing in a group for older people. I couldn’t be more wrong.” “I would never have imagined that I would meet so many good people in one place. I’m really happy to know them all. Casa Aurelia is the best place for immigrants to make friends and have fun. I feel at home here.”

In fact, at his party organised by Co.As.It., he was so pampered that he even said that this was his best birthday celebration. Valentino, it is a true honour to be part of your life. It is a privilege that we at Co.As.It. are proud to have

Casa Serena throws a farewell party for Sarina

Casa Serena in Stafford, Brisbane

It is time for Sarina Nucifora to add one last ingredient to her book of recipes: a generous pinch of fond memories.  Casa Serena’s cook has announced her retirement from the kitchen after unceasing nine years of bringing joy to clients through homemade food. It wasn’t an easy task, but it was necessary.

“I’m a “nonna” now, and I really want to enjoy my grandchildren and my children. They need me. I understand that one door is closing, but a new one is being opened,” says Sarina.

The feeling of an empty nest and years away from the workforce led Sarina to Casa Serena, where she was a volunteer for five years before becoming a cook.

“I loved it because it felt like I was doing something good, and I loved all the older people. They reminded me of my mom,” she says.

“As the years went by, a new position became available in the kitchen. So, I applied. I didn’t get it at first, but I kept persisting, and eventually, a spot came in.”

Sarina juggled the job as a cook and volunteering for years until her workflow in the kitchen began to demand more of her time. “I dropped the volunteering and fully embraced my job,” she says.

One can say that the clients benefited the most from this decision.
“They [clients] have always loved my chicken. I just marinated it with wine, herbs, and tomatoes – the tomatoes give it that moisture. I add veggies and bake it. They all enjoy it.”

Future memories
Sarina proudly speaks about how teamwork boosted her confidence, especially after years away from the workforce caring for her mom.

“I had lost confidence. But at Casa Serena, I have learned to find myself and be strong again. The people who work here are just so beautiful, and they have given me so much courage, support, and friendship.”

“They have taught me a lot, and they will be teaching me until my last day of work. They have always encouraged me not to be afraid. I really wouldn’t dare to cook for 50 people, and after a while, I was there cooking for them,” she concludes.

On April 24, Sarina had a proper farewell at Casa Serena, surrounded by the ones who will never forget her.

CHSP: The art of Pramila Patel

CHSP client Pramila Patel

Pramila Patel’s list of aptitudes is overarching. She is a master of embroidery, pottery, and crochet – not to mention her cooking skills, which have earned her compliments at the International Cookery School. Pramila receives support from Co.As.It. Community Services through the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP).

The artistic flair in Pramila’s blood dates back to her adolescence in Pune, India, where she began to learn embroidery in school. In a matter of months, samples of her artwork were already being displayed in Mumbai, the financial centre of India. “I remember my teacher coming to me and saying that I had achieved the highest grade and that she was deeply impressed with my work. That’s when my passion for embroidery was ignited,” recalls Pramila. Her dedication and hard work led her to earn two distinct certificates in fine arts and tailoring.

Upon her arrival in Australia, Pramila brought with her a wealth of artistic expertise from her homeland. In 1971-1972, she was a member of the panel of judges for fine arts at Ekka’s festival in Brisbane. She cherishes the photographs of her two-year tenure as a judge at the event. After a hiatus from her craft to focus on raising her three children, Pramila rekindled her artistic flame in the early 80s. She embarked on a new artistic journey, immersing herself in the study of ceramics and sculpture at Tafe Brisbane, a testament to her unwavering passion and dedication. “In 1996, I worked in the production of the mosaic for Mulbeam Park,” says Pramila, proudly showing the acknowledgment letter she received from Brisbane City Council.

As a consequence of health problems years later, Pramila was forced to give up her beloved crafts and remain at home following medical orders. The urge for arts and crafts was rekindling when boredom knocked on her door. That is when she started undertaking private lessons in crochet. Her curiosity and desire for craftwork inspired her to develop blankets and tablecloths as part of a new chapter in her artistic life.

“Words can’t express the joy and pride I feel when I’m creating something. The transformation of raw materials into a work of art fills me with immense happiness and a sense of accomplishment,” Pramila concludes.

A remarkable International Women’s Day 2024

International Women's Day 2024

The flowery-vibrant mixture of pink and purple set the tone for Co.As.It. Community Services’ remarkable celebration of International Women’s Day 2024.

Kim Skubris once again animated the audience in a crowded and charmingly decorated Plaza Terrace Room at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday 2nd March.

The IWD light signs and flower walls were popular and demanded stops for guests wanting to capture memories of the day.

In five hours of celebration, networking, and friendship, guests enjoyed a two-course lunch, Prosecco, and a fashion parade curated by Laura Churchill (Brisbane Fashion Month). Models showcased the fabulous outfits from well-regarded brands Orange Sherbet, Anannasa, Sacha Drake, Styling You The Label, and The Wardrobe—Formal Hire.

Co.As.It.’s International Women’s Day has always been a stage of notable and distinguished female presences and their powerful speeches.

Minister for State Development and Infrastructure, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Racing, Hon. Grace Grace, addressed women’s vital role in the family and society, especially in politics. Lady Mayoress Nina Schrinner emphasised the inclusive aspect of the female Brisbane community. At the same time, the Italian Consul for Queensland and the Northern Territories, Luna Angelini Marinucci, claimed an unbiased and equal world in a touching speech. The president of Com.It.Es Queensland & Northern Territory, Rosie Vecchio, was another illustrious guest at this year’s event.

Guests’ kind-heartedness outpoured with raffle tickets selling quickly, with proceeds going towards Co.As.It.’s Mind Wellness Program which provides support counselling and dementia support services to the members of the community.

Over 30 prizes were drawn, with one lucky guest being the winner of the major prize, a travel voucher for a trip to Italy valued at $2,500.

Building connections through language

Co.As.It. offers Allied Health services to the community

Maria Pousinho eagerly awaits her weekly physiotherapy session with Ian Martins, one of the Allied Health Team professionals of Co.As.It. Community Services. It is not just about taking care of her physical health but, more importantly, about building connections and sharing stories that revolve around a common factor that binds them both: the Portuguese language.

The 77-year-old Portuguese is commonly described as an introverted person, someone who avoids speaking English. However, the shyness gives way to comfort when she is with Ian. “Ian takes me for a morning walk around the block, helping me to get warmed up for the rest of the day. During our walks, we seize the opportunity to talk about family and life in our own language,” says Maria. “I miss speaking in Portuguese, and I’m not comfortable with English; that’s why I prefer to stay quiet when I’m among people whose English is their first language.”

Maria and her family landed in Brisbane in the early 1980s, driven by a desire to have a better life. Her origins date back to a small village in central Portugal. Ian, on the other hand, came from Brazil and joined Co.As.It. Community Service in 2023. “I feel fulfilled by performing the profession I love and, at the same time, stepping up through the language to make a lovely client feel, somehow, closer to her origins,” says Ian.

At Co.As.It. Community Services, 85% of the staff speaks at least two languages, narrowing language barriers and strengthening the bonds of a crescent multicultural community.

Student work experience at Casa Serena

Casa Serena is a Respite Centre in Stafford Heights

Kelvin Grove State College students undertook an inspiring one-week work experience at Casa Serena in December, organised by Co.As.It. Community Services and the Italian Language Centre (ILC).

Three Year 10 students assisted the respite centre’s clients with playing games, exercising, serving their lunch – but above all, brightening the clients’ days with kindness and affection.

This initiative combined Italian language and culture with work experience, as the students were responsible for welcoming the clients upon their arrival and learning more about their lives.

ILC Teacher Giovanna Amatruda supervised the students’ progress. “We put a booklet together detailing the proper words to use when speaking to the clients. The brochure had a section where the students had to practice using English and Italian when reflecting on their experiences and the skills they had gained.”

Students were prompted to discuss topics such as the cultural aspects of family for immigrants and female participation in the caring industry. Casa Serena staff welcomed the girls as part of the team, ensuring they had a fruitful week of learning at the centre.

“The staff was really unbelievable, making the students feel comfortable by encouraging them to ask questions and to observe how the caring tasks were performed,” says Giovanna.

“As they grew more confident over the days, and the clients got to know them better, their relationship blossomed into something great with beautiful smiles and laughs.”

The students had already visited Casa Serena in the past with a bigger group as part of the Immersion Day organised by the Italian Language Centre. At the time, the students interviewed the Italian clients of Casa Serena about their experience as immigrants.

Kelvin Grove College teacher Amanda Kennedy praised the initiative, affirming that Co.As.It. and ILC are creating something incredible for the students and community. “We are so blessed to have you as part of this project. We truly are creating experiences for our students so that they can become “globally competent learners, leaders and citizens. We are making it happen thanks to you.”

Andrew and Tim: a heartwarming story of friendship and multiculturalism

NDIS client with his Community Care Worker

“Tình bạn” is the Vietnamese word for friendship and a major component of the synergy between NDIS client Andrew Vo and Community Care Worker Tim (Thinh) Truong.

Andrew arrived in Australia with his sister in 2000, coming from South Vietnam. He has been receiving services from Co.As.It. for approximately five years and has Tim as his big brother.

“Tim helps me with my outdoor activities. He takes me to the Vietnamese shopping centre and explains to the retailers what I need,” says Andrew. “Our friendship makes me feel closer to home as Tim is also from Vietnam, and we speak the same language.”

The work Tim has been developing with Andrew is part of the multicultural roots of Co.As.It., which aims to communicate with clients as if they were in their homeland using their native language.

Andrew and Tim are together every week and have an intense routine of indoor activities: taking strolls by the river, fishing, enjoying the benefits of the social support groups, hitting the gym and learning Spanish.

“I love diversity and the fact that Brisbane is so multicultural. Sometimes, I have the feeling that the world is getting smaller because all the languages spoken worldwide are in Brisbane. Learning Spanish is me embracing diversity,” concludes Andrew.

Technology Classes: a life changer for Kaylene and Brian

Amici House Tech Classes

The Technology Classes at Amici House have been life-changing for Kaylene and Brian Tayler. An overseas trip on the horizon weighed in on the decision to learn how to use the much-feared cell phone.

Kaylene began her classes at the beginning of the year. She would make and receive phone calls and play a few games. She has worked her way up to learn how to take photos, search on the Internet, and change her phone settings.

“Technology and I’ve never mixed up. Now, I’m slowly picking up my confidence. I don’t hesitate to try a few things,” says Kyleene. “When overseas, I’ll be able to contact my kids and my 90-year-old mother. I’ll use Maps to find stuff, get directions, and everything else.”

In the same way, Brian’s relationship with the cell phone was even more meaningless before the classes. He hadn’t had a mobile phone for ten years, and life was fine. It all changed when he got a new device—a fresh start on learning basic settings and controls.

Knowing the ins and outs of the Internet, texting, and saving data by connecting the device to a Wi-Fi network are some of the valuable lessons Brian has learned at Amici House. Not to mention, his confidence is high ahead of the family trip.

“I have been looking carefully at Google Maps, its benefits, options, and operation. We will not get lost from each other now that we have our phones,” concludes Brian.

Christmas Art Exhibition at Amici House is a success

Amici House hosted on December 13 its second Christmas Art Exhibition with paintings created by the NDIS and Community Art Classes participants. Under the flag “Community and Belonging,” a wide range of artworks were displayed, attracting hundreds of guests.

A senior community choir set the festive mood with carols while guests admired the artwork. Amici House Art Teacher Ali Gillet, one of the most engaged at the event, was “floating in the air” with a large and proud smile she didn’t make sure to hide.

“I’m really proud as I walk around and see what’s happened over this year. You can see where the students started and where they finished up. Their paintings become more courageous,” Ali says.

“I have seen them grow as a community. At the end of the classes, we put our brushes down a little bit early and then walk around and congratulate each other on our work. You can feel the friendships growing, and that is 100% of what Amici House is about.”

Leena Miettunen, a Community Art Class participant, had her artwork exposed at the event. She celebrated a busy year filled with accomplishments and Ali’s guidance throughout the months.

“I started last July. Ali [the art teacher] is very good because she gives direction and teaches you. You want to learn how to use your brush to create the effects you want, and that’s what Ali brought to us. She is teaching us to have a clinical eye,” Leena says.

“Having my artwork exhibited is a compliment. This is a true reward for showcasing what we have done this year.”

NDIS Art Class participant David McDermott had four of his paintings exhibited. Fairly new to the classes, David predicts a bigger event for 2024.

“I have been attending the art classes for three months, and it is awesome to have my paintings displayed for the community. I’m very proud,” David says. “I love painting; it relaxes me. Painting birds and animals is what I like most. I can’t wait for next year’s exhibition.”

Amici House is a Community Hub in Brisbane that runs activities and services for older Australians and members of the local community and beyond. Visitors enjoy yoga classes, art classes, women’s groups, technology classes, Latin dancing, NDIS art and yoga classes, and health services such as podiatry and physiotherapy.