TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 12: Anna-Louise Kassulke

A podcast with Anna-Louise Kassulke
Anna-Louise Kassulke

Anna-Louise Kassulke

Gold Coast Recreation and Sport

Anna-Louise Kassulke has been guiding one of Australia’s most successful, innovative and inclusive sporting organisations – Gold Coast Recreation and Sport – for over 20 years. She knows about inclusion. She knows how to manage. She’s a leader in the true sense of the word. We caught up with Anna to get an insight into how she does it.

Transcript TIC TALK with Anna-Louise Kassulke

Peter:

Welcome to today’s Tic Talk. So I’ve got Anna-Louise Kassulke here from Gold Coast Sport and Recreation and hello, Anna.

Anna:

Hello, Peter.

Peter:

We were just chatting, we thought we’d throw on the microphones and do a podcast. So I’ve also got Dorothy Downs here as well who is going to chip in here as well, the ideal opportunity while we’re here to have a chat about your life with Gold Coast Sport and Rec. So when did you get started, if you can remember?

Anna:

Oh I can’t remember that far back, Peter, but it’s over 25 years since I started at Gold Coast Rec. Good old days.

Peter:

What motivated you to start?

Anna:

I’d actually done some great work with dear friends, friends of yours, Susie Bennett-Yeo, when I was going through university and I did some volunteer work with Suzy and the rest is history, I think. And I was very fortunate to have got this position down here and here we are 25 years later.

Peter:

25 years later. Can you explain to me what Gold Coast Rec and Sport do?

Anna:

We provide sport recreation for people with disabilities, all different ages, our youngest is three and a half and our oldest is 93. So all different ages, all different disabilities and we have over 100 different programs out in the community and people are participating and having fun.

Peter:

Wow. It wasn’t obviously like that in the early days.

Anna:

No, the good old days, I guess my focus back then was convincing people of the benefits of sport and recreation in those days. I think because it was a new organization in this region and people were a little skeptical and a little concerned that people with disabilities could be out playing sport and also we invented a few adventure camps and things and they were like, how could people be doing this?

Peter:

You must have been really challenging people’s ideas around what people can really do, especially in those days. I guess it’s still today as well but more so then.

Anna:

Yeah that’s it and I was dealing with a lot of other professionals like social worker, occupational therapists and a lot of those people didn’t quite see the benefits but yeah, eventually it was just chipping away and I guess I was working with a lot of different people within the school systems and they were a little reluctant to be—how could people be playing cricket and how could people be playing tennis, particularly in their local clubs. And I guess that was the difference.

Peter:

Over the years—this is a hard question, over the years, what would you think has been the change that’s occurred in those sorts of perceptions?

Anna:

Yeah I think the changes have been, I guess, a gradual thing but I think when we look at sport, there’s no question that sport for people with disabilities has been a good catalyst out there and I think even just the Paralympics movement itself going, well, people can play sport. So I think attitudes have certainly changed as a result from all of that but I guess the proven track record, in this industry, people talk and families talk and that probably for us has been the biggest movement. We still have families coming in very concerned that their son or daughter couldn’t do that or shouldn’t do that but I think families generally now have a very different expectation and that can be for lots of reasons, I think. I think just the education system right now is challenging families to look at better options for their children.

Peter:

For a family, it puts extra pressure on you in a way that’s changing their family perceptions and expectations are pretty high these days, it seems to me.

Anna:

And I think that for us, we see that as an absolute bonus because for us, that’s actually matching where we’re coming from, you know, wanting these young people to be part of their community and to be achieving and learning and growing as opposed to just being cared for which I think is philosophically—you know, a lot of young people exiting schools, that’s what was happening. But then we also have a lot of programs for juniors and families now, whether it’s to learn social skills and learn how to play together, they’re the basic principles of one of our—or actually a number of our Saturday programs where we have juniors from six to 12 age group and as we say at the start, the focus is those children learning how to play together and learning how to share and going out in the community to the swimming pool and developing friends outside school, which is—

Peter:

You mentioned the staff, you have around 15 staff now which is quite amazing for what you do. What kind of training, what kind of support do you give staff and maybe it’s your recruitment process too which are really great, I think?

Anna:

Yeah our star team have got a variety of backgrounds, you know, like we’ve got physios on board—on our team, we’ve got nurses, we’ve got a lot of exercise science graduates, health science backgrounds so really tremendous backgrounds, a tremendous variety of backgrounds with our staff and that really adds to this eclectic group of people that just has just such amazing skills. So it’s not just about the university brings for us, it’s really more about what that person can bring to the organization.

So we haven’t had to advertise for staff for well over 15 years now and we have a steady flow of resumes coming through and we basically—if a good resume crosses our desk, we’ll obviously interview that person and if we feel that they can bring something to our staff, we’ll create a position. And I guess that’s quite unique and something that has been acknowledged in a broader sense with our funding bodies to go how do they do it? It’s probably creative bookkeeping but no, it really is about what that person can bring.

Peter:

You’re kind of harnessing their passion for what they—and their interests for what they currently have, huh?

Anna:

Absolutely, absolutely. And really, to me, in this day and age, most people are coming in with no disability experience but they’ve got an absolute interest and passion for sport. And that’s what I—all sport or outdoor recreation or whatever it might be. And I think that was one of the things we did a study last year where we actually determined that that’s probably one of the best things we can offer here is come on in and you know what, it’s just a different client base you’re going to be working with and if you’re passionate about making a difference in people’s lives then this is the place to be.

Peter:

That’s an interesting one I picked up on, it’s a passion you look for, a passion in sport as opposed to knowledge of disability. Now for some listeners here, that’ll be interesting to think about and you’re convinced—you—it’s about passions, really, for sport and making a difference to people as well but this knowledge of disability, does it come into work?

Anna:

I think, certainly the knowledge of disability can be learnt and we do a lot of training and relevant training in that area. But again, as someone comes—and I guess I relate that back to myself and my passion for sport and I love sport and I love the outdoors so when I first started, that was one of the funny things, everything was court-based when I first started so there was no dents and no drama and yet I love all those areas but I was no good at it. So if I look back, it was my absolute passion for sport and making a difference in people’s lives and I see that when I have a lot of young people coming through. They don’t have a lot of opportunity maybe through Uni to do it or they’ve kind of had a little bit of a touch of it and then they’ve gotten to really love doing that. So they’re coming with not a lot of knowledge and but you know, six months here and they’ve pretty much worked with most disability types, a cross section of ages, they’ve had to develop relationships with families, so yeah, that’s all part of what we—

Peter:

It’s very context, isn’t it, because everyone’s different, obviously, and very different—

Anna:

Absolutely.

Peter:

–in terms of your knowledge of a particular impairment type, not necessarily relevant or you might be working with it all.

Anna:

Exactly, exactly.

Peter:

Sorry, it wouldn’t be relevant.

Anna:

That’s right and that’s pretty much what we were saying to any staff member going out. We can give you a profile on an individual and it might say he has autism but at the end of the day, what does that mean? Sure there’s aspects there of what turns him on and turns him off but let’s judge him for who he is and that, even philosophically, we’ll say to staff, we’ll give you what we feel you need to know but the rest is about you connecting with that person.

Peter:

You do an enormous variety of activities on here, we briefly talked awhile ago about dance but give us an idea of the breadth of the activities that you do.

Anna:

Yeah we have over 100 different programs in a week and before I break them up into, I guess, the water-based sports, kayaking, sailing, surfing, swimming, pretty much anything to do with water, so lucky you’re—Gold Coast has access to such beautiful areas. And our guides are off exploring and surfing, you know, pretty much just about any day of the week. And then we have the traditional sports, basketball, athletics, football or soccer, whichever country you come from, gymnastics, so again, all those traditional sport. And then if we moved into the arts, we’ve got obviously, drama, music, dance, we do, obviously, some yoga and we have a number of relaxation groups as well, which is really nice for young people with high and complex needs that do some relaxation and interactive communication-based programs.

What have I missed? I’ve probably missed many. Obviously on the (fitness, we’re kind of finding now that every young person that comes through wants to develop a six pack and no different to their siblings and anyone else out there. So the health and fitness aspect of what we do is really—and we actually have a program where we do diet and nutrition with our young people as well on a specific program, we’re working with the families to assist them in changing some habits that young people have developed over time so yeah, hence the reason why water bottles as opposed to Coke cans and other fizzy drinks are pretty much gone. Water is fantastic and we’ve really embraced that and go through that health and fitness.

Peter:

You mentioned some of the—dance as a good example of some of the—a real inclusion happening by osmosis, can you explain a little bit more about that, your dance classes?

Anna:

Yeah. So the thing with a lot of our programs, our main focus is for—or not main focus but one of the ulterior benefits, I guess, is that young people can be part of their local fits clubs and we have a group of young girls and a young guy that are part of our yoga program and they’ve transitioned now to a regular class, I guess it’s (12:26) and are just doing so, so well. They’re doing pretty much all the movements that any yoga class would and again are just being so socially accepted. And I guess that’s only one of many examples where young people are now a part of their local clubs and whether that be tennis or golf, golf at Royal Pines Resort here, magnificent Royal Pines, our guys are out there on those greens pretty much playing every day and the golf pro there is coaching our guys so there’s a number of programs where the local community are pretty much running what we—

Peter:

Were there any challenges to that in the early days of your local programs accepting your guys?

Anna:

Yeah, again—and Peter, we’ve talked about it, it’s finding those connectors and people that just get it, you know, and whether that be in the table tennis club, the Lakes Tennis Center where we have, Peter Miller who’s been working with out with us now for over 15 years. All these tennis coaches are all very familiar with working with people with disabilities and any one of his classes will have two or three young people with disabilities at any one time during the week, we have access to his magnificent facilities out there for our group programs that we wish to run out there. So yeah it’s one of many wonderful examples of the Gold Coast I guess just embracing. And I think where I’ve seen the change is that clubs are now chasing us, they want us to help them, to include—to give you an example, just recently Gold Coast canoeing, who they’ve just kind of got themselves reestablished and they really want our guys as part of our club and it’s just fantastic—

Peter:

Interesting because canoeing is not an obvious fit.

Anna:

Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And it’s the same even within some of the self-defense, the judo, we do a lot of programs of self-defense judo and taekwondo and all those programs and it’s the same thing of all those clubs are knocking on our door just saying how can we help?

Peter:

It’s just a self—I’ve seen this with other groups similar as well, it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy of kind of inclusion, it’s kind of is why (14:54) start because canoeing are doing it, dance are doing it, cricket are doing it, therefore—so I’m going off principle (15:01).

Anna:
Absolutely.

Peter:

And you’ve kind of grown up in this whole region of sports and those sports that aren’t involved on the outside—

Anna:

Absolutely, absolutely and really, for us it’s really a case of—yeah if we’ve got the young people that have got an identified interest in that and sometimes that might not be the case but we’ve had—another example in recent times is snooker. He’s a level one coach, he really wants to coach our guys, not just come down to the snooker—

Peter:

Snooker would be an interesting sport.

Anna:

Exactly and I like snooker but one of our staff said let’s take a few of the guys down there, trial them and just see. This guy is keen and it’s a magnificent facility, absolutely.

Peter:

I think it would be interesting for some of your guys, a very interesting sport.

Anna:

Absolutely. And you’re right, Peter, I think for us we’re very lucky that we have a presence in our lives, our community, every day there’s people out there doing it and that’s, again, our staff. People will see our guys working at the gym and go, how do I get a job doing that? And we’ve got some amazing staff in some of the facilities we access because they’re like (16:26) staff, we’ve accrued some great staff in those places, which has been fantastic.

Peter:

You definitely have created that (16:35), I wish you could—kind of wish we could bottle it down and think how do we then take that approach and put it somewhere else in the country and that sort of thing. You don’t see it that often. (16:47) the longevity, obviously you’ve been here for a long time.

Anna:

And I guess one of the things I was always very nervous about in the very early days was the perception of what the Gold Coast was about and I wasn’t quite sure of whether there was a (17:02) Gold Coast. But whether there was this sense of community but there is an amazing sense of community and I think even our civic leaders would not probably see that as much as we see it but there is a real sense of community and sport is such a big part of the lifestyle down here and keeping active. So magnificent, we do a lot of walking trails but some of our young people with higher support needs but there are some beautiful fitness trails where they can get out and the gym might not be the best option for them. But they can get out and exercise and use some of the exercise stations and cover some beautiful areas.

Peter:

That’s an interesting point because for the Inclusion Club listeners, Gold Coast is known as a holiday destination.

Anna:

Absolutely.

Peter:

There are a lot of transient people coming and going in this region so in a way, you would think it doesn’t foster that kind of culture very easily because people are coming and going and things but quite the opposite with the people that are here.

Anna:

Absolutely and I think that is something to acknowledge and as I said, there is a tremendous sense of community and hence the reason why we can access places like the Royal Pines Resort through to the little county health club that’s out the back at (18:25) and our magnificent beaches and waterways are fantastic.

Peter:

Are there any things on your bucket list or things to do for Gold Coast Rec and Sport that you’ve still to do?

Anna:

Yeah I think, for us Peter, we have opened a new office down at Varsity and some southern based programs, we’re getting a lot of demand from people from down at that end and we need to keep developing. We have our club here at Southport and obviously it’s quite a dynamic and part of the local sporting precinct which was always our goal and hence the reason our Varsity office is the same but there’s sporting clubs there that want to do more and we need to be able to support them to do more.

Peter:

Okay. Just to go on that a little bit, if they’re interested how then do you make that connection work? It’s just that you’ve got an interest in (19:22) sport locally, how do you then make the connection?

Anna:

Yeah. So pretty much at the moment, it’s the initial meeting with the club and kind of finding out what they have to offer because as we always know it’s about kind of the jigsaw puzzle, they might have coaches and volunteers available from 10 till two and we don’t have young people that are interested at that time.

So it’s really a negotiation because obviously we’ve got programs seven days a week so it could very well work that it be a Saturday afternoon, that it be the old fashioned come and try, let’s go and give this sport a go and then we take it from there. But during the week where we have a lot of our young people post school, we can set up some times where they can go and try an activity, that’s what we’re going to be doing with snooker (20:14).

But yeah we’ll just take a group that we might think might be interested. We also obviously—we’re constantly doing surveys of the families’ interests, things that they might like to see happen (20:30). And yeah there was a request just recently and (20:37) what it was but this constant feedback coming from families and the young people themselves as to what they’re—

Peter:

I was going to ask pretty much a final question is what sort of feedback, how do you know—of course you know but how do you know, to prove it, for funding purposes and all sorts of things that you’re making a difference in people’s lives?

Anna:

Yeah obviously we’re constantly doing program evaluations and part of that is obviously feeling out to families and obviously the young people themselves and then obviously we do a service evaluation twice a year as well so we’re getting really good feedback (21:14) sometimes you know—

Peter:

So those are the organizations that provide service with the—

Anna:

Both, both. We actually do one internally for sending in ours and then we actually have the services that we actually—community networks, actually feeding back to us as well. So they’ll feed back to us things that they might like to see change or nine out of 10 times it’s like, just bring me more people, you know? They just want more people to play tennis or more people to play golf or—

Peter: probably.

Anna:

Yeah so and in terms of I guess the school’s base and making a difference, that’s kind of reflected in people’s comments that they’re feeding back to us, which is nice.

Peter:

Excellent. Thank you very much, Anna-Louise Kassulke and I encourage listeners to get in touch with you if they want to find out more about your work but continue to make a dent in the world. I’m sure you will.

Anna:

Thanks, Peter.