12 January 2022

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers parade with Nerrida Wolfe.

Sharon and Gordon Seymour at the Carnival of Flowers floral pirate in Toowoomba.

Nerrida Wolfe has been a with Life Without Barriers for nearly a decade, first as a Senior Disability Support Worker and, since 2018, as Program Coordinator. During that time, she’s worked with people who are ‘unbelievably strong, resilient and brave’ and watched countless people with a disability show what amazing things can be achieved with a bit of support.

She’s seen people grow into their dreams, discover new ways of thinking and acting, and explore pathways to independence. She’s watched them plough into their passions with gusto, experience boundless pride from fulfilling projects, and make the seemingly impossible happen.

Based in the regional Queensland hub of Toowoomba, famous for its Carnival of Flowers parade each Spring, Nerrrida is responsible for pulling together teams of staff, volunteers and the people we support to create floats and ‘walking art’ for Life Without Barriers. She says it is one of the most joyful experiences for her, and everyone involved.

“Watching the people we support take charge of the creative aspects of the float and the costumes is wonderful,” said Nerrida.

Carnival float with a large pink butterfly.

"They love to get involved right from the start, and get so excited about meeting the challenge – everything from theming, to music, to how we will represent ourselves creatively.

“And it can be challenging, especially working in a group environment, for some of the people we support – they are not always used to working with others, but it doesn’t take long before everyone has found their space and working at their own pace as part of a group.”

Nerrida said that people traditionally came to the Carnival creative workshops from the Life Without Barriers craft group which was held weekly, but when COVID-19 hit, the craft group space had to go.

“So we basically set up working bees for anyone who were interested. These were held in council sheds which were made available to us and became bases were where our Community Floats were worked on.

“We ended up with 15 people who were really enthusiastic, but we all knew that time was against us to get things organised in time for the September parade. Deb, one of our support workers, delivered craft packs in July and August so we could work on costumes and held working bees on the weekends.

“This past carnival had the theme ‘Emerging Landscapes’ our group decided they wanted to emerge from their cocoons as beautiful butterflies. It was a fitting creative after the hardships of COVID, I think.”

Nerrida said this year also saw lots of new support workers get involved. “It was great to see new people this year – it was really energising. Until you become a part of a project like this, it’s hard to explain just how enriching it can be to everyone, workers and the people we support, as well as family and friends. Everyone is invested in getting the best outcome.”

And that outcome is in full spotlight on the day – as the Life Without Barriers entry made its way down the main drag of Toowoomba as a part of the parade, our butterflies were in their glory.

Image: Left-right: Sanjay, Gordon, Debra and Dhiraj finishing off the float.

Some walked, some relied on their walkers, or were pushed in glittering wheelchairs, especially decorated for the parade. Others rode on the float and no 'butterfly' was left behind .

“It’s such a boost of confidence for everyone involved,” said Nerrida. “Some people, who normally those who avoid crowds and noise, are the ones who love the attention most on the day. They are the ones who are up front, waving.

“They all know it’s their day and if they’re at all unsure about anything, they can be confident that our staff are there to assist as required.”

Carnival of Flowers is just one of the ways Life Without Barriers staff interact with the people we support to facilitate dream goals.

Image: Final touches on the floats.

“Another person we support is obsessed with racing cars, cars in general. He really wanted to go the next level, so our workers investigated some options and found a way for him to attend a car club regularly. He’s just loving it.

“And then there are wins like one long term client, who was able to go from a share home to a home of her own. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not always about the big wins – sometimes it’s about maintaining what they have and to keep edging towards small steps that improve a person’s quality of life.

“Now, she’s able to live independently in the community, with daily support from us, which has provided her with new dignity. This woman is in her late 50s, and can now enjoy things like decorating her own space and get into a bit of gardening.”

Nerrida says the work she does is challenging but “it’s so very rewarding. Seeing people blossom, seeing how resilient they are, how they can be in dark places and get out of them to go onwards and upwards. It’s such a privilege to build rapport, know that they are happy to see you and know that you are helping, in some small way, to make another person’s life better and happier.”

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