Pilot program a lifechanger for young mums

July 25, 2021 BY

A DETERMINED group of women have taken their first major step towards establishing a much-needed support hub for young mums they hope to base in Geelong’s northern suburbs.

The Empowerment Challenge was born in 2017 when the women identified a gap for long-term mentoring of young mums to help guide them through a positive parenthood journey.

While securing funding has proven difficult, the group this month launched a pilot mobile outreach program thanks to a generous donation from the Electrical Trades Union for the purchase of a van.

The van will visit community centres and playgrounds offering informal mentoring, fun activities and connection opportunities for young mums.

Co-founder and chair Shannon Graham said the mobile program was the first stage in a three-phase pilot program.

Shannon Graham (right) from The Empowerment Challenge with two of her fellow board members.

She said it would hopefully provide the data needed to secure grants through council, government and other sources during the second phase, with the third phase being a bricks and mortar hub in the 3214 postcode.

“A lot of us have worked in the industry or volunteered in the industry and we were involved with mentoring young mums in a brilliant program called BUMP,” she said.

“But the problem with that was that it only went for term 2 and term 3 and a lot of the young mums are from a really vulnerable cohort.

“A lot are from lower socio-economic backgrounds experiencing generations of poverty, being on welfare, with mental health, drug and alcohol and family violence issues.

“They have a real distrust of programs so it took a long time for us to break through those walls and by the time we did the program was finished.”

Shannon said it was traumatic for the young mums to be moved into new programs where they had to explain their situation all over again to a stranger.

“The frustration grew from there and we said ‘there needs to be something else’. There wasn’t and there still isn’t and, in fact, that BUMP program doesn’t exist in Geelong either,” she said.

“We decided that we needed to do something about it and that was where The Empowerment Challenge was born.

“Our long-term vision is that we will be setting a hub up – an actual bricks and mortar building in the 3214 area that will be like a one-stop shop which will be very relaxed, informal and we can build those relationships up.

“It’s about having somewhere they can connect, people they can trust and something long term so they don’t feel abandoned.”

Shannon said the hub would have study rooms with computers, volunteers who can take care of children, mentors who can help with resumes and paperwork, and potentially a professional counsellor in the long-term.

“Alice” – a young Geelong mum – benefited from a mentoring program that no longer runs in Geelong and she wishes there was something long-term like The Empowerment Challenge.

She said there would also be opportunities for young mums who go through the program to return down the track to help others going through a similar experience.
“The feedback from young mums is they tell us that they would just be completely lost without us,” Shannon said.

Shannon and her fellow board members have met with local MPs and reached out to City of Greater Geelong councillors but so far without success.

“We just need that one person who is willing to back us with some funding and take that little bit of a risk to see what we can do because it’s so needed,” Shannon said.

“When you help that young mum who then passes that on to her children – we are breaking that cycle for the next generation. That’s powerful.”

To find out more go to The Empowerment Challenge website.

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