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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.

Cire supports bushfire initiative with Wandin Rotary

Cire donated more than $700 to Wandin Rotary to directly support their initiative to aid those impacted by the devastating bushfires in the Corryong and Upper Murray region of northeast Victoria.

The money will help offset a $10,000 donation by Wandin Rotary to assist the Rotary Club of Corryong which is working tirelessly to help the local communities and individuals rebuild their lives.

Money raised by Rotary goes directly to those in need, without administration costs and other fees.

Whilst Cire staff contributed to appeals earlier in the year, the Rotary donation comprised of subsequent funds raised at a funky hair day by our Hubs and Children’s Services teams, which was then matched by Cire itself. The Wandin club’s pledge is from its major annual fundraisers including its Wandin Custom Car and Bike Show, the final night of which is on Wednesday evening 18 March.

“Cire is one of Wandin’s first organisational members and we are proud to be able to support the club in this way,” said Cire CEO, Gus Seremetis.

“Wandin Rotary is a small club but incredibly active in supporting the local community as well as reaching out to others in need.”

In commending Cire for its generous support, Wandin Rotary President, Dennis Hoehne, said the club chose to donate $10,000 to the Corryong Club so the funds would go directly to those most in need.

He said the Corryong Club had indicated that was most needed in the community was access to cash.

“Many people’s livelihoods have been taken away with little alternative income available. So far the Club has distributed $30,000 of its own funds to people who have either lost their homes or their properties have been severely damaged. The President of the Club lost his own home to the bushfires’’ Dennis said.

He said it was at times like these that the Wandin Club particularly valued organisational members like Cire who could help harness even more support through its staff and the communities it serves.

He said the club was always looking to expand its membership base so it could continue to provide and expand its work in strengthening local communities and helping those in need.

For further information about Wandin Rotary, please visit http://www.wandinrotary.org/

RYLA catapults Taylah onto huge learning curve

Attending a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) program earlier this year has catapulted former Cire Community School student Taylah Minca onto a huge and positive learning curve.

Whilst still a student at the school,  sponsored Tayla to attend the challenging week-long camp which provides a unique opportunity for leadership skills development while having fun and connecting with others.
Since attending RYLA, 18-year-old Tayla has commenced a beauty therapy course at Victoria University. She has captured her Rotary experience in the following article.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to win a scholarship provided by Wandin Rotary to go to RYLA.

While I was waiting for the bus to go to RYLA, I made friends with a girl who was also going to the camp. When we arrived at RYLA it was super intimidating. We walked through a human tunnel of arms created by the leaders and they were all super energetic. I really didn’t know what to expect at this stage.

At the start, there was lots of team building activities which seemed really silly at first. I won a paper scissors-rock-competition, which was one of the best parts of the experience and made me feel really welcome. While these games seemed silly at the start, by the end of the camp, they felt normal as there was no judgement from anyone. We felt so free, and you could express yourself without embarrassment.

I found the first day a bit hard and felt homesick. The leaders were very supportive and encouraged me to keep going. Alan (the camp leader) was particularly supportive and made a massive impact with his service style of leadership. I’ve never felt so much support before.

By the second day, I realised that I needed to take on board as much as I could from the experience. It was great to be off my phone, and always be present with the people around me.

Over the week, my team all became super close and learnt so much about each other and ourselves. I hadn’t realised I was an introvert; I am a lot more self-aware now.

At one point, I had to introduce someone to the whole group after only meeting him for five minutes. It was nerve-wracking, but I did ok. He had a lot of cool, interesting things to say and really engaged the audience.

On our final night, we had a lot of fun, and I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I learned a lot about mindfulness, gratitude and kindness, which has already had a big impact on how I live my life. I hope to take the lessons that I learned on this camp into the next part of my life. I cried, I laughed, and I learned so much about myself.

I would like to give a huge thanks to Wandin Rotary and Cire Community School for giving me the opportunity to have this experience.

Rotary Youth Leadership Awards