Foundation shines the spotlight on Geelong women in the community sector
This International Women’s Day, the Geelong Community Foundation is celebrating the countless women who are driving change and making a difference in the community sector.
Within the community sector workforce in Victoria, women make up about 81 per cent. Geelong Community Foundation chief executive officer Gail Rodgers, said the board was proud to highlight just a few of the amazing women at the forefront of efforts in addressing the region’s most pressing issues.
“Their leadership, dedication and passion, along with the teams they guide within their own organisations, is incredibly inspiring. “I am humbled by the work they do every day and I salute all those in this vital sector making a difference for our community.”
BRON LAWSON is the program manager at Bluebird Foundation, a community arts organisation that she founded in 2009. Recognising the power of the arts to effect cultural change within communities and resulting in improved social, emotional and health outcomes, each week the organisation touches the lives of more than 1,000 babies, preschoolers, children, teens, families and adults.
Programs harness the wonder of the arts – music, visual arts, theatre, dance, digital art and more – and allow participants to embrace their creativity to share their stories, develop skills and make connections in the community.
Bron said the most significant highlight of her time at Bluebird was bringing together local artist, Laura Alice, with a group of young refugee women. “Together they created a poignant short animated film called Pipi Thay Too (The Grandmother Tree) that celebrates resilience, the power of identity, mystical encounters with ancestors, and the Karen and Karenni refugee experience.
“The film has been screened at international film festivals and won awards including Changing Face International Film Festival, AniMateAustralia and Sparrowland Short Film Festival.”
Reflecting on International Women’s Day, Bron points to an important time to celebrate the incredible contributions of women in our community.
“Women are very often the social glue that keep families, schools and whole communities connected and functioning,” she said.
“It’s a chance to redefine what success looks like so that women are free and supported to find their own path in life and are valued for their unique contributions.”
RACHAEL PARKER is the chief executive officer of Ocean Mind, an organisation she founded in 2016.
Her team works to provide surf therapy sessions for participants experiencing mental health challenges, social isolation and disabilities.
Ocean Mind’s mission is to create a supportive environment for young people to realise their potential, and build self-efficacy, resilience and confidence and the impact is the improved wellbeing of young people as well as the increased capacity of the community to support young people’s mental health.
When asked about her hope for the future of the organisation and wider Geelong region, Rachael is keen to see both continue to thrive and flourish.
“This includes fostering a community that collaborates to achieve the best outcomes for all individuals, providing opportunities for success, and offering support during challenging times,” she said.
“As the population continues to grow, many individuals are unable to access necessary services and support.
Thus, I envision a future Geelong that address these issues and ensures that all communities prosper.”
Rachael’s advice for other women with regards to working in the community sector? Have faith in yourself, your vision and your goals, and be willing to work hard and persevere in the face of obstacles.
LANA PURCELL is the founder and chief executive officer of Feed Me Bellarine, an organisation founded in 2019 with a mission to rescue as much food as possible heading to landfill – not only contributing to sustainability efforts across the region but also, importantly, helping to feed people that are in need mentally, physically or financially.
“Every day we rescue from supermarkets, delis, bakeries, food distribution businesses and more,” she said. “We take this food and we cook it into thousands of meals per week, and we also stock a pay-as-you-go market available to anyone.
We have a no questions, no agenda policy – you don’t have to prove that you are in need to come to Feed Me.
“I personally manage all three locations but I do everything from rescuing food, to managing volunteers to writing a grant submission to cleaning the toilet.
“I also cook, clean, counsel, support. And I try to inspire everyone that I come into contact with.”
On International Women’s Day, Lana believes it is important to stop for a moment and recognize how women inspire, educate and change people’s lives.
“My advice for younger women and women in general is just to find what you love.
If it is a love that has a purpose, that is great, but even better if you can do that for your job.”
KAYLENE REEVES is the comanaging director of Norlane Community Initiatives (NCI), a position she has held since the organisation was founded in 2018.
NCI runs community hubs, called “neighbourhood commons”, throughout Norlane and focused on building community connections and addressing common needs.
The vision of NCI is to build a localised movement of neighbours working, living and co-creating a thriving neighbourhood. This is done through activating people, places and projects. Kaylene admits that the vision for NCI is quite ambitious.
“We would love to see a thriving, connected and sustainable neighbourhood, where people take pride in where they live, contribute to their neighbourhood, and feel that the whole of their lives are enriched through their experience of community here.”
A highlight for Kaylene has been the establishment of a social enterprise café – a longtime dream of hers.
“I love cooking food and sharing that with others, and being able to build a space for our community to come together over food while also making healthy food more accessible to the neighbourhood is an added bonus,” she said.
“I have also loved seeing people from the community take ownership of the cafe and add to the space through running groups, volunteering and selling their homemade wares.”
When considering the meaning of International Women’s Day, Kaylene finds herself reflecting on how far we have come in our society to get to the point where women are in positions of leadership and influence in our society, and the positive impact this has had.
“This day can be a reminder of all that we have achieved, as well as a pointer for the changes we still need to make in order to reach gender equality.”
For more information on the Geelong Community Foundation and its programs, head to geelongfoundation.org