From a very young age, Melissa Mascio, CONNECT Hamilton’s Communication Coach, had a lot of exposure to rehab professionals, particularly Speech Language Pathologists.

Her brother Christopher was born with an anoxic brain injury and was developmentally delayed. He particularly struggled with communication.

“We were two years apart and my mother tells a story of me mimicking the Speech Language Pathologist, who regularly worked with him, and offering Christopher candy to encourage him to try some words,” says Melissa. “I was definitely impacted from a young age by Christopher and seeing life from that unique perspective. He had so many challenges, but he would face them with strength and bravery.”

Melissa helped her parents care for Christopher and helped them navigate the health system for him. Fast forward to high school graduation, Melissa decided to go into the field of Speech Language Pathology and she has never looked back.

She started at Chedoke in a specialized outpatient setting. She worked with people with brain injury but didn’t feel prepared to be the sole Speech Language Pathologist. She started accumulating some valuable experience, which continues when she decided to take two contracts at the Toronto Rehab Institute.

“I worked with such a great team there and learned so much. It was a wonderful experience.”

Melissa followed that with a 10-year career in Burlington at Joseph Brant Hospital. She gathered experience in rehab, acute care, intensive care and trained a number of Speech Language Pathologists and students.

Throughout that time, she felt rewarded by helping people overcome huge obstacles and regain confidence in communication and swallowing.

Christopher passed away six years ago, which has been extremely difficult and sad for her family, but she says she felt his presence the day she saw the CONNECT job posting for a Communication Coach in Hamilton. CONNECT Hamilton is located in an area called Stoney Creek.

“I have been living in Stoney Creek for almost a decade, I was happy in my work but definitely feeling like I was ready for a change. When I saw this opportunity, I knew it was meant for me.”

Melissa says throughout her career she has always tried to connect with the individual and put them at the centre of their care.

“That person-centred part of CONNECT’s model is not new to me, but CONNECT’s collaborative and integrated approach is truly amazing. Everyone’s opinion is welcome. There is no silencing of anyone’s voice. CONNECT’s values really speak to me. What company has joy as one of its values? I love that.”

Jamie Curran, CONNECT Hamilton Leader, says Melissa embodies the Life Redesign Model in her approach and he is grateful to have her on CONNECT’s professional coaching team.

“Melissa has been a fantastic addition to the CONNECT Hamilton team. Melissa intuitively knows the CONNECT way and uses her laid back style and sense of humour to quickly get to know people. Melissa leads by example and never hesitates to lend a helping hand. Often I think of something that needs to be done and Melissa has already done it.”

Melissa says one of the challenges of a more traditional health environment is working within the allotted time with an individual.

“At CONNECT, we have time, because we work on rehab in real life. I see the Life Redesign Coaches as my equal partner. They spend so much time with the people we support and while I am present and available, they are such a huge part of integrating what we work on into all aspects of a person’s life. I can give a few key communications tips and they just run with it and come to me when they have questions.

“At this point, with all of us so new here, we are working together to learn the ropes, pitch in where we’re needed and help the people living here. We all have blended roles, so we are helping each other.”

When she’s not helping people redesign their lives, or collaborating with fellow coaches to problem solve with the people they support, Melissa is busy with her two sons, Brandon and Christian, 5 and 7, respectively, and her husband, Paul.

She is trying to focus on work/life balance and is dabbling in yoga, loves to hike, enjoys all the seasons – especially fall, camping, and getting together for family time.

Smiling through a few tears, Melissa says she feels she is exactly where she is supposed to be.

“It feels like home. I couldn’t be happier or feel more grateful for this opportunity.”