Meeting the needs of the community: Julie Babineau on resilience

Meeting the needs of the community: Julie Babineau on resilience and compassion

Julie Babineau, CEO of Odyssey NSW – who are dedicated to empowering individuals, families, and communities impacted by alcohol and/or drug dependence – reflects on two challenging years for the sector, and how these lessons will be used to move forward. 

Nelson Mandela famously said: “do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” I often recall this expression when I reflect on what resilience means to me and the work we do at Odyssey NSW.

In terms of developing my own resilience, I have learnt that there are things that I can control and some that I cannot control. But, through everything, I believe it is about getting up and becoming stronger after facing hardships. There is resilience both in the face of adversity and the resilience we face in our day-to-day life.

Growing up in Northern Canada, within a community of very strong women, resilience was simply a part of who we were. When I look back, I can see occasions when I might have had to call on my reserves of resilience, but at the time we were simply taught to keep going. I also learnt to be accountable and to take responsibility for myself from a young age.

In my younger years, I competed in gymnastics where you learn to get back up on the balance beam after you fall off. Physically, you find a way to dig deeper. Sport and learning and building resilience go hand in hand: it is about getting up and staying strong. But how do you stay strong? 

I am a firm believer that if you can get through difficult times, you do become stronger. When you know or believe that you mentally can do something, you do it. Ultimately, each time you face adversity it’s a chance to grow. Each time you stand up after getting knocked down, you stand a little taller. 

I moved from Canada to Australia, without knowing a soul, and had to dip into my resilience basket, often, as I navigated my way around a new place and a new job. I originally came to Australia on an exchange for Veterans Affairs in 1996. I quickly fell in love with the country but had to go back to Canada after just two years. 

I returned to Australia in early 2000 to work on the Sydney Olympics as the IBM Venue Manager. By then, my decision to stay was made. I took up a role in the NSW Ministry of Health Drug Programs Bureau and then went to work for Justice Health for 14 years. That journey led me to working for Odyssey – a journey that I will be forever grateful for embarking on. 

In leadership, we always talk about being resilient in planning for potential risks or possible adverse outcomes. None of us had planned for a pandemic. None of us planned for the many devastations that the last few years brought. There was no way of knowing of the social, economic, and emotional shocks that the virus would bring with it. 

As an outcome, resilience and compassion became crucial components of steering Odyssey NSW through the past two years and guiding the organisation through challenges that we had never faced before. The pandemic accentuated vulnerabilities where they may not have been visible before. Not everyone needed help, but there were many who did.

As a health service, our priority has always been the wellbeing of clients. So, our pandemic response was focused on maintaining the wellbeing and reinforcing the resilience of the people that we serve. Sometimes, that meant making hard and unpopular decisions, such as stopping external visits, for the good of the clients and the organisation. It also meant putting a halt to our fundraising activities – an essential underpinning of our work. 

Working alongside our clients, our staff, and people with lived experience, I have learnt so much about resilience in these recent years. I learn as much from the people who are doing well, as those going through a hard time. I believe that if you have experienced hardship, it gives you a sense of wanting to lift and support others. I find I am attracted to individuals who have had a tough experience because they are more resilient.

The people that come to Odyssey have already lost so much in their lives, and critically many have lost the ability to believe in themselves. What we do is provide people with a framework that helps them to build their own resilience. They put in the hard yards – we simply support them to become stronger.

Some of the most resilient people are those who are working to turn their lives around.

In helping people to rebuild their lives and their resilience, I am passionate about eliminating the stigma faced by people who live with substance dependence. I believe the way to overcome stigma is through education and understanding that language matters in the way that we refer to substance use. The reality is that there will always be people who choose to use substances and our role is to assist in harm minimisation and provide rehabilitation without judgement.

In a way, Odyssey is representative of life: some of us feel strong, while others need support. As a community, we are here to support those who need help right now, acknowledging that we are always learning to become more resilient. At Odyssey, we help people to become strong and see the good in staying strong so they can in turn help and support others.

This May, after more than two years of hardships, hurdles and hinderances, we will be finally running our annual Business Women’s Lunch. Putting a halt to our fundraising activities was one of our biggest challenges over the course of the pandemic, and we could not be more excited to run this vital event once again.

This year, our theme of powerful women remains, and we will be showcasing an impressive panel of highly accomplished women who will speak to their fields and diverse professional backgrounds, and, importantly, what resilience means to them.

For the passionate and hardworking staff that enable Odyssey to drive positive impact in the lives of individuals, communities, and families, this event is a testament of the strength, compassion, and resilience that we have all demonstrated in some of the most testing years to date. 

Looking forward, we are excited to continue making positive changes to the lives of our clients. We are excited to lean on the strength and resilience we built in these previous years to push forward, to keep standing up whenever we get knocked down, and to keep meeting the needs of our community.

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