Now, nearly fifteen years later, Jess and her team have achieved something pretty remarkable.
The SISTER2sister program is a unique mentoring/resilience initiative which matches ‘at risk’ teenage girls with positive, professional female role models. It is in-depth, continuous and has bettered the lives of countless young women.
Jess is the latest to be featured in our ‘Game Changing Women’ series. We check in with her for an update on the foundation, her new focuses with evolving the SISTER2sister initiative and what kind of legacy she hopes the organisation will leave.
Tell us a bit about the foundation’s programs and your team:
I lead an extraordinary team of women (and men) who all share the same agenda; to empower vulnerable young women to make positive choices for a better future. I started Life Changing Experiences Foundation in 2003 so that I could raise the necessary funds for a program I created called SISTER2sister. This is a mentoring and resilience building program, matching inspirational professional women with vulnerable teenage girls who have been identified as “at risk” and/or lacking a positive role model in their life. Together they embark a year long intensive risk management program incorporating self esteem building workshops, valuable life skills and a safe and socially inclusive environment for them to share, heal and grow. 14 years later we found that 95% of mentors are still in contact with their mentees and/or the foundation which has paved the way for long term positive change and proves that the benefits of long term mentoring are literally “life changing”.
How did you get to this point with the foundation?
Passion, followed by unwavering determination, resilience and hard work (definitely before wisdom and skill which thankfully did eventuate along the way!)
What ‘game’ are you changing and why does it need a shift?
The breaking of deeply entrenched intergenerational negative social issues such as family violence. This problem is not new and it is a mammoth issue to tackle so it’s easy to give up because it’s too hard. What if all of us were to help just one woman less fortunate turn their life around during our own lifetime? We wouldn’t have to imagine so hard the change we want to see in the world. Through SISTER2sister we are already changing the lives of vulnerable girls, one girl at a time. We work with fewer girls, for longer on a deeper level so that she has the best chance of breaking the cycle for good.
Who or what inspired you to take this path?
Trauma dramatically impacts a child’s ability to learn, and commonly presents itself as behavioural difficulties in the classroom. It broke my heart to see misunderstood students disengaging from school and falling through the cracks just because of their circumstances. Children only know what they see, so we need to show them that there are other paths to take in life. To break the cycle, I chose to start with the mothers of the next generation by empowering them to make positive choices and strive for a better future. I believe education is the key to unlocking limitless potential.
What unique skills do you embody that have helped you be successful?
According to my mother I was born with a passion for helping others, so it’s no surprise I ended up in the not for profit sector. Apart from my virtuoso flute playing skills, I’ve learnt everything else on the job by making a point of surrounding myself with highly skilful people and being a sponge.
What does an average day look like for you?
Despite being diligent and focused with my to do list over my morning coffee, there is no ordinary day and no day goes completely to plan. I’ve learnt to expect the unexpected as the somewhat chaotic nature of our beneficiaries’ circumstances (which are not always bound to business hours) can throw even the most robust of to-do lists out the window.
What key thing (or things) would you say have helped drive your career to date?
Seeing the life changing long term positive impact the SISTER2sister program has on the lives of young girls.
What’s the best thing you’ve learnt as a leader?
You are only as good as the team you create, so create a damn great one! Flexible working hours for working mums equals loyalty.
How do you look after your wellbeing and health outside of work?
By sticking to the one ingredient rule (no processed food) and cooking everything from scratch. Being dragged to the gym and cycle class at 6.30am on Saturday morning by my three time Ironman fiancé. Getting enough sleep and surrounding myself with good people, friends and family.
What’s an awesome podcast you’d recommend?
I listen to “On Air with Ella” which is a Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset podcast. I’m completely obsessed about what I put in my body after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and this podcast covers a wide range of interesting (and sometimes out there) topics about food, detoxifications and making the best choices for your mental wellbeing.
What’s your favourite piece of tech and why?
Google home is my favourite piece of tech as all you need to do is say “Hey, Google” and it answers questions like “How long is my drive to work if I leave now?” or, “Is there any chance of rain today?” when you want to know if you should pack a brolly. It even tells you what vitamins are in a brussel sprout! (Yes I did ask Google that.) Mostly I love that Google can play a theme song to match your mood in three seconds without lifting a finger.
What are you doing to inspire more women and girls into leadership?
We have just started a new program for year 7 girls in high school called #nolimits4girls which extends the reach of our flagship program SISTER2sister. Providing support to young women at this stage of development has the potential to increase their resilience, emotional intelligence and stress management skills, creating a strong foundation for personal growth. We challenge gender stereotypes (e.g. “like a girl”) on girls’ behaviour and explore how they think they should act and what they can do. We also encourage girls from this early age to be “sisters” to other young women rather than competitors. We hope that from this program, girls will aspire to be strong independent women capable of taking their place in the world.
If you know an inspirational woman who you think will make a great mentor for a girl in need, please share this article. We are currently recruiting mentors for 2018, so visit www.lifechangingexperiences.org for more information.