Two women talking in front of a green screen.

Rachael was searching for a career where she could make a positive impact on people’s lives by helping, healing, and connecting.

She was in Kelowna with Katimavik (a government run program that educates Canadian youth through volunteer work) doing day programming for adults with disabilities when everything clicked. “I was like ‘Wow I love this work!’ I knew this was something I was really passionate about and that I could totally see myself doing.” 

Rachael’s supervisor had taken Recreation and Leisure Studies at Waterloo and recommended the program. So Rachael went for it and finished her Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Therapeutic Recreation in 2014.

One word to describe my time at Waterloo? I would say growth. I grew as a student, but also as a person. I grew as a recreation therapist. I learned so much about myself while I was there; I grew into an adult.

Connecting special populations to the world

The Therapeutic Recreation (TR) program has a co-op option, which gives students the opportunity to gain paid work experience in different roles within the field. “My favourite co-op experience was at a pediatric palliative care facility,” says Rachael. “My job was to support children. We would bake and go to the park and do all that sort of stuff, but my role in a lot of ways — because the kids had a variety of disabilities — was to help connect them to the world. I was their voice and their hands and their arms. I also did a lot of bereavement support for siblings and families. I really loved the work.”

Rachael holding up props in front of a greenscreen.

Her co-op experience helped Rachael decide to pursue a specialization working with children. “I got so much hands-on, real-life experience in my TR program at Waterloo that I had a great knowledge base to step forward and really specialize,” she notes. “When I got to my Child Life Studies post-degree program I felt so prepared.”

It’s not just the co-op work experiences that prepared Rachael, “All of that interview practice and experience and résumé writing. Starting new jobs and meeting new people. I don’t think I could’ve had these experiences anywhere else but at Waterloo. And for me, it’s meant that I’m only 2.5 years out of school and I’m in my dream job.”

Helping kids at SickKids

Rachael is a Child Life Specialist in the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Child and Family-Centred Care at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids). She manages Marnie’s Studio — a unique space that promotes healing through creative arts including art workshops, dance, yoga, magic shows, and more.

Rachael also produces (and stars in) a variety of interactive programs for the SickKids closed-circuit television channel (CCTV). On CCTV, Rachael and friends bring game shows, music, science, crafts and more to patients and families who may not be able to leave their rooms. The live and recorded shows are broadcast to patient rooms and family spaces across the hospital, reaching a total of 420 TVs.

Rachael being filmed in Marnie's Studio.

“We use play to connect, educate, teach coping skills, and normalize the hospital environment,” says Rachael. “There are a lot of kids who aren’t able to get out of bed, but they can phone into the live shows and connect with other kids that are going through similar things they are. We do segments to show kids more about the hospital or model coping behaviours like taking a deep breath if you’re nervous. But we do it in a way that’s fun and sometimes silly!”

Finding her dream job

Rachael started off not knowing exactly what she was looking for. But she knew she wanted to help people. She found her dream job by exploring and looking for that great fit.

For me, the most important thing that I’ve done in my life is to put myself out there and try new things. That’s really what has guided me, helped me figure out what my passion is in life, and connected me to people and opportunities. If I hadn’t put myself out there, I don’t know where I would be, but I wouldn’t be here.

Learn more about Child and Family-Centred Care at SickKids or about Waterloo's Therapeutic Recreation major.