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$10,000 CommBank boost for FICE

Cire’s First Impressions Clothing Exchange, and financially disadvantaged women across the region, has received a $10,000 boost from the CommBank Staff Foundation.

The social enterprise has received the grant to help cover the operating costs of its Mooroolbark retail outlet for 12 months, allowing the FICE team more time and less stress to focus on its mission of empowering women.

The grant represents a high profile injection of support and confidence in FICE and acknowledgement of the incredible work it is doing to help women of all ages who are long term unemployed/financially disadvantaged, even more so given the challenging times in which we live.

‘The grant helps validate what we are doing for women and also recognises all the hard work that has gone into getting FICE off the ground since it was launched almost 12 months ago.’ said Renee Cooke, one of the FICE coordinators and trainers.

‘It reaffirms that FICE has a real purpose and place to help meet the pressing need in the community to make a positive difference for women in so many aspects of their lives. The support we offer through the FICE experience is needed more than ever given the far-reaching impact of the pandemic.’

FICE was nominated for the grant by Janine Haag, Savings Specialist at Commonwealth Bank Mooroolbark, who has become one of FICE’s greatest advocates.

“I love what FICE is doing to empower and support disadvantaged women, giving them the confidence they need to take the next important step in their lives. It’s great to be able to support FICE…our Mooroolbark branch team is so excited about the grant success, particularly during this difficult time.”

The success and need for such an initiative such as First Impressions has been highlighted by the COVID restrictions, particularly through Cire’s social media platforms, averaging a reach of 25,000 reach each month and 4,000 engagements. A virtual skills workshop session had a reach of more than 5000, approximately 600 engagements and more than 2000 views so is clearly helping keep women connected and supported during restriction periods.

FICE was initially set up to provide affordable quality clothing suitable for job interviews and other important occasions, and an opportunity for long term unemployed women to upskill within an operating retail space to increase their employability. About 40 women have upskilled through the shop as volunteers or through a work-for-the-dole partnership with the Salvation Army’s Employment Plus while hundreds more have walked away with new additions to their wardrobe.

However, the FICE experience goes far deeper than affordable quality clothing and is constantly evolving and diversifying to meet the needs identified by the women themselves.

Under the umbrella of Cire Services, FICE is unique to the region with its innovative and bold approach to empowering women and fostering meaningful community engagement. It emerged from Cire Training’s Women’s Warehouse Program, for women and by women. Since opening in mid-2019 FICE’s reach has extended to domestic violence affected women, homeless women, lonely and socially isolated women – and engaged enormous support and interaction with the more affluent women of the area.

Drawing on Cire’s overall expertise, resources and infrastructure across its services, FICE helps provide access to a myriad of flexible learning opportunities, education and training, community programs and services and referrals to external agencies where needed.

The broader community has enthusiastically embraced the project with volunteer mentors assisting the women on their journeys and regularly donating good quality clothing to the shop.

First Impressions participants have been touched by the random acts of kindness and help from strangers, seldom experienced before. This community connectedness has allowed many women of the Yarra Ranges and surrounds to work together as a joint collective in order to improve the financial, emotional and wellness of hundreds of women.

As the initiative gains greater momentum, it is anticipated that thousands of women will be benefit from FICE in some way.

FICE’s real-life training space, mentors women to stand tall by preparing them for employment. Experienced trainers provide ongoing support to instil confidence and develop the skills necessary in the paid workforce, and transferable between jobs, as well as overall support. Some of the tangible benefits include project management/store management/retail skills/merchandising, sewing, design, and customer service/communication.

Of significance, and highlighting the value of First Impressions, Cire secured a work-for-the-dole partnership with local job provider, Employment Plus. Pre COVID-19, Employment Plus, estimated there were more than 1205 unemployed women on their books throughout the Yarra Ranges at any one time; this figure has increased dramatically in recent times and is expected to continue the upward spiral given the impact of the pandemic on the economy. Employment Plus is just one of the job providers in the region so the unemployment rates are much higher.

Through the Employment Plus partnership, FICE has welcomed its first group of women from the local Chin community who will use the work-for-the-dole program at FICE to improve their English skills and also to interact with other members of the Chin community who visit the shop daily, and other women.

First Impressions supporters include Yarra Ranges Shire Council, Voices of Women (VoW), a not-for-profit organisation based in the Yarra Valley that provides advocacy for women in the region, the Australian Women Donors Network, Selby and Seville Community Houses, Healesville Living and Learning Centre, the Rotary Club of Wandin and Good360 and its network of partners particularly L’Oreal.

It is worth noting that the initiative has a strong sustainability and environmentally friendly footprint with items being donated, recycled and reused.

First Impressions Clothing Exchange joins more than 170 other recipients across Australia to receive one of 205 grants being awarded by CommBank Staff Foundation. These organisations have been nominated by a CBA employee to receive a much-needed financial boost of $10,000.

Now in its 102ndyear, the CommBank Staff Foundation’s $2 million Community Grants Program is made up of fortnightly contributions by CBA staff, which are matched by the bank.

FICE was one of more than 170 recipients across Australia to be awarded a grant by the foundation.

Please note the FICE’s Mooroolbark shop is currently open under Victoria’s Stage 3 COVID restrictions and adheres to the government’s guidelines at all times.

Education and lifelong learning during COVID-19 times

Welcome to issue #3 Cire Training SkillsHub. As you can see we’ve moved to an online version for Term 3. Don’t worry the much loved printed version will be back for Term 4, and we will also continue to deliver this online for those of you who prefer to check out what’s on offer on your phone or tablet (it’s even better for our beloved planet).

As the end of Term one was fast approaching so was the Victorian Governments initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the weeks leading up to the Easter holiday’s Cire training were concentrating on setting up our online training platform. We decided to go with Google classroom and Google Meet, as the adult students were somewhat familiar with this platform. So while the students were rewarded with an extended school holiday break, from the 21st March staff worked tirelessly to prepare for remote learning for the start of term 2.

On the whole Term 2 has been a success, much reliant on this preparation from the Cire training staff. I know that I am now quite the expert at uploading resources, videos, weblinks and classwork to the Google classroom and can even insert a virtual background to a Zoom online meeting. I can appear to be in my lounge room or on a beach, complete with colourful umbrellas and clear blue skies. I mostly choose to be seen in my lounge room due to the poor internet connection, but I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with internet issues.

During this term I have indeed worked from home in my front lounge. I had a large window to work next too and have enjoyed the comings and goings of traffic, both vehicles and humans in and out of my street. I have loved watching people and small family groups going for their daily walks, and all the different dogs that have accompanied them. In particular, there is a large golden retriever who runs ahead of his family and bounds onto my lawn and driveway with such delight that I can’t help but smile. My cat, Monty, is not quite so impressed! I had a tree just outside my window, which was at the beginning covered in bright green leaves. Over this time it transitioned through autumn into beautiful leaves of yellows, oranges and reds until now it stands bare with not one left remaining.

I have been increasingly proud of how all of our Cire students have continued their learning journey during Term 2. Many of our students had issues with access to suitable devices, internet access. They needed to juggle other responsibilities such as working and caring roles, but they still signed in to their sessions to stay connected and learn new skills.

It was with such pride that the First Impressions Clothing Exchange (FICE) re-opened its doors on Wednesday 10th June, celebrating with a 50% off sale. During Term 2 the FICE shop was closed, but training and support for community continued online. Although this was a fantastic way to stay in touch, the team are over the moon to be open and trading and supporting the local community.

Now, as Term two is coming to a close, and we look forward to Term 3 and the changes that it will bring to our training space. Where possible we will return to in class, face to face learning, maintaining COVID safe guidelines. This will significantly improve some learning journeys and bring our students back together to continue their connections. A number of our courses will continue to be delivered remotely; some will be blended (online and on-campus) as we continue to comply with social distancing.

I would like to finally thank all of the Cire family, both students and staff, for sticking together during what has been a challenging time. It has been truly amazing to be part of a team who just got on with the job at hand to enable our students to continue their learning journeys with Cire.

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So onwards and upwards, watch out, Term 3 here we come!

Enjoy SkillsHub online
Nina Bekker – Business Development Manager – Cire Training & Hubs