This article is part of a series celebrating International Women’s Day and the difference that women make. As part of this celebration, ACU will be hosting five free events across our campuses on 8 March.
The community engagement programs run at ACU share the common goal of instigating positive change in the community for those that are most vulnerable.
The desire to deliver change for the common good, which forms part of the ACU Mission, has inspired four ACU women to become agents of change – with their impact reaching around the globe.
Simone Mossop, ReadyStepGrow
Working in neonatal care, Simone Mossop noticed something that upset her. While there was growing research and intervention on how to help premature babies, it was not readily available to parents and their children.
Simone was determined to change this. Combining her experience in nursing and primary school education, the ACU alumni created ReadyStepGrow, a not-for-profit that provides programs that aim to improve a child’s executive functions (a set of mental skills that help you achieve tasks) to help them reach development goals.
Simone explains, “Executive functions are the best predictors for who will end up with a job they enjoy and who will have fulfilling relationships in their lives. They are the functions we are especially focused on in the programs at ReadyStepGrow.”
By intervening early, Simone’s organisation gives babies who are born preterm a greater chance of a healthier and happier future.
She explains, “Survival rates for these babies have been improving for some time now however long term developmental outcomes remain unchanged, and this is something that I would like ReadyStepGrow to achieve.”
Jean Madden, Street Swags
Appalled by the mental and physical health dangers of living on the streets, ACU graduate Jean Madden decided action was needed.
She explains, “I don’t think it’s acceptable that we have women and children and men – our own people, our own community – living in extreme poverty. When we’re such a wealthy nation there’s no reason for us to have poverty or accept poverty.”
This led Jean to create Street Swags, a charity that has provided over 50,000 homeless Australians with basic bed and shelter to minimise the dangers of sleeping on the streets.
Jean’s work with Street Swags has gained widespread recognition and praise. In 2013, Jean won the Young Australian of the Year Award and in 2015 she was formally inducted into the Businesswomen's Hall of Fame.
However Jean is determined to do more. She insists, “the swags keep people alive long enough for communities to take responsibility for their own. It’s time to give these people the support that they need – a roof over their head.”
Now the ACU alumni, who graduated with a Bachelor of Education, Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Theology, is tackling homelessness with the affordable housing initiative Swags with Walls.
“In the next 20 years, we will dramatically change what poverty looks like in Australia. I plan on building 50,000 cabins, affordable for anyone, no matter what their income, to not only have secure and safe housing, but to ultimately own their own home. We have lowered the cost of housing to lift people out of the margins and effectively bring an end to extreme poverty in Australia.”
Genevieve Radnan, Gennarosity Abroad
Genevieve had always been interested in helping others. But it was a two-week trip as a volunteer in Kenya that transformed her interest into Gennarosity Abroad, a charity that provides a range of services and support to African communities.
The first project of Gennarosity Abroad was the building of Karunga’s Emanuel Kindergarten. Genevieve raised $15,000 to build the education facility, which has grown from 18 to 48 students over the past four years. Then, after meeting one of the student’s impoverished mothers, Genevieve decided more needed to be done for women in the community.
She recalls, “I thought, ‘how is this woman meant to provide for her children if she can’t even provide for herself?’ What’s a holistic way of helping her and then we can apply that to other women in similar situations?”
This question led to the creation of Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre, a place where illiterate women are taught mathematics, business studies and other practical skills.
“The results have been amazing,” says Genevieve. “[The Centre] opened in 2013 and we’ve had students open up their own business as a result of the education they were taught.”
The goal now is to combine her nursing degree from ACU and experience in the health care system to build a new medical centre. As Genevieve sees it, these may be small, community-based projects but they can make a huge difference to individual lives.
She explains, “I feel like I can make a change. It might not be a huge number of people but it will be somebody. That’s my attitude.”
Julie Sprakel, Think Pink Bahrain
For Julie Sprakel, it all began with a birthday wish. Having been personally touched by cancer, Julie asked her friends and family not for presents but for a donation to breast cancer.
She planned to donate the gifts to a local charity but she explains, “nobody answered my calls or directed me. This got me thinking, ‘if I couldn’t access information, how did others – both nationals and expatriates?’ I made the decision then, to become that change agent.”
With that in mind, Julie founded Think Pink Bahrain, a not-for-profit that educates women on the importance of self-screening and raises money for vital equipment and supplies.
As Julie explains, “education is the first step to prevention... When we educate our mothers, daughters, sisters and nieces, we can help them make informed decisions, which may ultimately save their lives.”
With Think Pink Bahrain, the ACU nursing alumni has raised over $2.5 million. This has provided a crucial MRI machine to a local hospital and covered the cost of training medical staff.
But, Julie insists, “My charity is more than just an organisation about money, [it is] about directing [the funds] accordingly into health care gaps – the areas that you can see will make a positive impact and change being on the ground.”
Celebrations for International Women’s Day are gearing up across ACU on a national scale with major events planned for 8 March in Ballarat, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. This is a great opportunity for ACU alumni to reconnect and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.