14 March 2016

Chaplain Sharon’s Passion Helps Clarissa Find Hers

Posted in Chaplaincy

One of Chappy Sharon’s considerable passions is helping young people discover their life’s purpose. The wide smile on her face and welling up of tears in her eyes as she talks demonstrates that this is certainly the truth.

And Sharon’s hand in helping former student, Clarissa, find her purpose is one such example of which Sharon is particularly proud.

Sharon’s previous chaplaincy appointment at Stretton State College brought her and Clarissa together. Their first contact coming when Clarissa had an unfortunate accident at the school sports carnival.

“I first met Chappy when I was in Grade 6, lying on the ground with my knee cap on the other side of my leg by the side of the sports field. It was my first dislocation of many,” says Clarissa.

This is certainly an undesirable way to meet, but it was the first meeting of a long relationship. Clarissa’s mum, Katie, was always a big supporter of chaplaincy and worked tirelessly alongside Sharon in promoting the service.

“We organized many fun, community-building events to cover the cost of the P&C funded third day of the chaplaincy service and Clarissa was always there, helping out alongside her mum,” Sharon recalls.

Despite her very supportive and loving family, growing up was difficult for Clarissa as her deteriorating knee condition prevented her from doing a lot of things she loved.

This exacerbated an underlying mental health issue that Clarissa was struggling with. The relationship between her and Sharon, and the chaplaincy programs, became an incredibly important resource at this time.

“I began transitioning to my current role at Calamvale Special School, over the course of the next two years, when Clarissa was still in Year 10. Prior to my move, Katie and I recognised a need to refer Clarissa on to the school nurse. The ongoing pain in her knees was having a detrimental effect on many aspects of her life, including her outlook and her mental health,” says Sharon.

It was this referral which saw Clarissa get the medical care she needed to start moving forward.

“I was referred to Kids In Mind, where I was diagnosed with severe depression, severe anxiety and a learning disorder that hadn’t been identified throughout the course of my schooling life. I stayed at Kids In Mind for two years to get things sorted out. While Chappy Sharon was still at Stretton College, we were still communicating. She helped me out a lot as I went through some really tough stages,” Clarissa says.

“I didn’t have a lot of people I could talk to because I had a lot of trust issues. But I knew she was always there. She was always level-headed and she would steer me along the right path.”

Clarissa experienced a difficult period throughout her senior high school years but she managed to graduate with special consideration.

But Sharon, who by now was working at Calamvale Special School, remained interested and was getting updates on Clarissa’s progress through Katie. Clarissa’s first knee operation, in Year 12, took its toll on her mental health and this lasted through the summer after her graduation.

“Early in the new school year I messaged Katie and asked how Clarissa was going. She replied ‘Not so good. She’s just at home. She’s not doing much. At this stage she doesn’t know what she wants to do.’ Knowing that a number of alumni students had volunteered with me in the past, helping out with my programs, she asked if I might have a volunteering spot for Clarissa. It was not hard to find a role that suited Clarissa to a tee!

“Having cleared it with our Principal and filled out the necessary paperwork, the very next week Clarissa fronted up at school ready to roll up her sleeves and get into whatever was needed. She helped me out a day a week and also worked with our HPE teacher who valued the opportunity to have an extra set of eyes and a helping hand both in the pool and on the oval.”

Volunteering at the Special School through Chappy Sharon has had an absolutely incredible effect on Clarissa.

Through her involvement at Calamvale Special School, Clarissa has discovered how much she loves working with special needs kids. She has found her passion.

“Clarissa spoke with our Deputy Principal about doing her Certificate III in Education Support. Because she had proven herself to be such a valued member of our school community it was easy to find her a placement for the 100 hours that was required. Despite a second knee operation this year, Clarissa has now completed her Certificate III receiving 100% on all her assignment work! We are all very proud of her,” beams Sharon.

“Clarissa is now working as a relief Teacher’s Aide and has found her niche within a community of people who appreciate both who she is and all that she does. I think this has been very healing for her! As we concluded the year I couldn’t help but marvel whenever I caught a glimpse of Clarissa.”

Sharon truly comes alive when she reflects on the impact that she’s had on Clarissa’s life and being able to help her find her passion for working with children and young people with special needs.

“I feel it’s an incredible privilege to have had the opportunity to journey these past 8 years with Clarissa and her family. It really is an unexpected joy to be able to work alongside Clarissa.”

Clarissa’s struggle with mental health issues is all too common in Queensland schools.

Mental health issues are in the Top 5 concerns that are raised with chaplains by young people every day.


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