As co-ordinator for the Moorditj Mia centre at Mundaring, Mrs Panaia was recognised for her work with the Employee of the Year Award at the Aged and Community Services WA 2014 Excellence in Care Awards at Hyatt Regency Perth this month.
She co-ordinates an art and craft class, which she said had proven ‘powerful’.
‘The women in the group bring a very motivating energy to the classes and it can be almost magical and surreal at times,’ she said.
Mrs Panaia also described the classes as very healing.
‘A younger woman joined the group and she came from a troubled background, but the older ladies took her under their wing and they showed her a lot of love and it was very healing for her,’ she said.
‘They loved and protected her and she went on to go back into the workforce because she had been able to receive so much love from the ladies.’
The group numbers fluctuate from eight to 10.
‘They have so much wisdom and I have learned so much about our people from them and their life experiences,’ she said.
‘They remind me of my mother and the cultural knowledge I have inherited has been important in caring for them.’
Mrs Panaia was born to a Wardandi tribe member father and a Wagin mother, but grew up mainly in Perth.
‘I feel a real connection to the Midland area,’ she said.
Her father was a World War II soldier and believed his children needed a good education.
‘I attended school in Leederville and later Perth Modern School,’ she said.
She has worked for the WA Police Force as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer, in the court system, in prisons and at Centrelink.
She has been with Rise for the past six and a half years.
‘It is rewarding work because I have learned so much in terms of my own culture from these women,’ she said.
‘You’re lucky if you go to work every day and you love your job and that’s how I feel, it brings happiness.’
Mrs Panaia also helps raise money for funerals by holding karaoke fundraisers in Midland.