Long-time peer support mentor Georgina Fiorentino has accepted an invitation to extend her role with AQA, adding depth to our support coordination and peer coaching teams.
Georgina brings to the support coordination role her experience as an NDIS participant, which equips her with first-hand knowledge of how complex and confusing the scheme can look to those engaging with it for the first time.
She brings long familiarity with budgeting, too, having spent many years in accounting with a national transport firm.
Georgina will also be available for Peer Coaching engagements, and has delivered coaching to participants in AQA’s Discovering the Power in Me workshop.
“The peer coach’s role is completely different from peer mentoring,” Georgina explains.
“When you are providing peer support to someone as a mentor, a part of it is offering advice or ideas from what you do or what you have done in the past.
“Whereas peer coaching is pretty much helping your clients to find answers for themselves.
“You help them to look at what they really want to do, or what issue they want to work on. When someone realises that they’re the one who has the answers, they feel confident that they can find solutions for future problems or obstacles that they may encounter.”
Georgina has been living with a T7 spinal cord injury since 2003, when blood clotting developed on her spinal column - a symptom of the auto-immune disease lupus, with which she had been diagnosed at the age of 19.
She was 31 at the time of her injury, was working full-time, and had been married four years. As she has shared in a video hosted on AQA’s Spire website, she had thought as her rehabilitation began that her life was over. She also had questions about what her injury would mean for her husband, Andrew.
“I was in rehab for four months at Royal Talbot,” she recalls. “You go through thoughts about what’s going to happen to your marriage. Almost to the point where I wanted Andrew to leave me, just to save him the trouble.
“Instead, I guess I feel that it brought us a lot closer together. I was one of the lucky ones, I believe. Our relationship became stronger, and Andrew is absolutely amazing.
“I’ve done so many things since, and we’re as strong as ever. Like I say, I’m so lucky. But at the same time when I tell that to people, they say the opposite: that Andrew is lucky to have me too.”
Georgina returned to work part time with the transport firm she had been with when she was injured, remaining until May 2019 when she was offered redundancy. She and Andrew took the opportunity to spend five weeks in Europe.
“We made it just before all this Covid,” she says. “It was just amazing - we had a fantastic time.”
Georgina lives in Melbourne with Andrew and their two dogs, Penny and Candy. She volunteered with AQA as a peer mentor about 10 years ago, motivated by her awareness of how helpful peer support had been for her as she completed her rehabilitation and returned to her community.
“I find peer mentoring very rewarding,” she says.
“I know that having someone with that lived experience talk to you, and show you that you can get back to live pretty much as normal after a spinal cord injury - it’s something that you need at that point in time while you are in the ward, and it’s something that you will never forget.”
- Ian Baker