By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador
If you have been looking for Rita Parent over the years, her location may have varied. However, Rita can always be found helping others, no matter where she is. For the last decade, the Tonawanda, New York native has served as a Personal Support Worker for countless people in the London, Ontario area.
Originally, Rita went to school for nursing in the United States, but as Parent recalls, things didn’t go as planned: “When I moved to Canada in 1983, the government didn't recognize my diploma in nursing and I was a single mother at the time.... I was unable to start over until many years later, where I decided to take a bridging course as a PSW.”
Before returning to school, Rita faced many challenges while raising her young son in a new country. Regardless, she remained committed to helping others, even though she was not recognized as a nurse in Canada: “We lived in Haliburton, Ontario – one of the greatest tourism towns in Ontario. I became a waitress at Sir Sam’s Inn, which – in my eyes – was easy for me, as it was still something I could do [to] give the customer[s] what they needed. I loved that job.”
Many people would think that re-entering the educational system after a long period of time would be a daunting or scary task, but not Rita! Her advice to other adults (especially single moms) who might be apprehensive about going back to school is to not to fear it at all: “Don't be afraid to go after what you want!” she exclaims. According to Rita, school can even be enjoyable as an adult! “As a mature student, I enjoyed school more. [I loved] it so much, I couldn't stop! I had to make some sacrifices, but I did it!”
Currently, Rita is a Personal Support Worker for Cheshire London. Cheshire provides attendant (PSW) services for clients in their own homes, to assist them with healthcare and daily living. She feels very fortunate to have found her calling in this field: “I was lucky to find a great job where I have to utilize all of my skills at a client’s home. My job gives an individual the care they need and the opportunity to live independently.” Rita has also been able to “learn and grow” from the many individuals she has worked with, including award-winning, Paralympic Athlete, Tammy McLeod.
Personal Support Work and athleticism are not often thought of as two things that go hand-in-hand, but it turns out that they do! Parent and McLeod excelled together when Rita worked as Tammy’s caregiver and sports assistant in boccia ball. Tammy McLeod is a member of the Canadian Paralympic Boccia Ball Team. Rita says that working with Tammy was the “most rewarding part” of her job as a PSW: “I learned so much about boccia ball through the eyes of many athletes with disabilities. Not only did I assist and care, but I became close friends with many people all over the world. I'm very grateful for the experiences!” Although she is no longer involved with sport, Rita says she keeps “a close watch” on Tammy and her career.
Rita Parent admits that being a personal support worker is “a very demanding occupation. It's not meant for everyone, but if you have what it takes you'll go far. You need to be compassionate and love your work....” For her, “there is no doubt... that the healthcare field is the way to go, and we are in great need of PSWs.... I hope I'm not too wishy-washy, but I really love my job!”