$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.

Applications Open for Women’s Mentoring Program

Local community organisations have again partnered to offer the hugely successful mentoring program Taking it Step By Step, again in 2020, and applicants are being sought.

This program, in which women who would like to achieve any personal or professional goal are matched with a skilled mentor, is unique in the world and was the subject of a Deakin University master’s thesis. The aims of the program include validating and supporting life changes for mentees, as well as increasing the confidence and community networks of participants – thus addressing some of the barriers to women’s full participation in the community. Goals can be big or small and about anything – eg personal growth, health, money or relationships. Mentors receive training and support and can help with goal-setting, accountability, and strategies to work through the challenges that can crop up.

Some reflections by mentees from the pilot program:

“Knowing that I’ve got someone who is interested in what’s happening with me felt very supportive…kind of gave me a sense of not being in the cold…feeling alone.”

“The experience has been very positive. It’s helped me focus. When I get back from work and I’ve got some activities to be done by a certain date – a lot of it is around my own personal time management.”

I needed someone who could make sense of the inundating stream of ideas going around in my mind, desperate to come to fruition. [My mentor] worked with me to drill down on goals, then plan and meet those targets. Exactly what I needed.”.

Vanessa Lewis, one of the mentors in 2019 said “I learned so much as a mentor – it honed my listening and interpersonal skills, which helps me professionally, and watching my mentee recognise her own development was pure joy.” Vanessa went on to say “The screening and matching of the two of us was perfect – we hit it off straight away and both had the same sense of commitment to the process. We set our meeting format to suit both of us and I found each session left me feeling positive and energised. I might have been the mentor, but for me it was win-win. I’m happy to say that we’ve become friends.”


Program Outline:

Mentors and mentees apply and are interviewed so that their skills, motivations and availability can be suitably matched. Mentors are encouraged to recognise mentee’s skills and experience and work collaboratively with them to progress their action plans. An orientation session is held for all participants, including understanding the program and learning goal-setting strategies. Three whole-group sessions are held during the program for further training and motivation. Some pairs meet fortnightly, others monthly; some face to face and some by telephone or face-time.

There are limited places in the Taking it Step By Step program in 2020 for both mentors and mentees.  If you are interested in either role, contact Irene on 123 456 or Josette on 456 789 for further information or an application form. Meetings (whole group) will be held at either Chirnside Park or Lilydale and are held in the evening. There is no cost to participate in this program.

Taking it Step By Step is run by Eastern Health, Voices of Women and Cire Services, with the support of Yarra Ranges Council.

Clothing Exchange a great boost for unemployed women

Support for long-term unemployed women throughout the Yarra Ranges and beyond has received a massive boost following the official opening of First Impressions Clothing Exchange at Mooroolbark in September.

A Cire-driven project, First Impressions offers quality and affordable women’s clothing and accessories suitable for job interviews and other important occasions. Equally important are the skills sought by employers and overall support gained by the volunteers who operate the project.

Clothing Exchange a great boost for unemployed womenThe exchange was the ‘brainchild’ of participants in the Women’s Warehouse Essentials pre-accredited program at Cire Training which aims to upskill and foster confidence in long-term unemployed women.

Currently located at Mooroolbark Terrace Shopping Centre, it is operated as a small business/social enterprise by women, and for women. Items can be purchased or simply hired to get the look, to get the job!

First Impressions is a dedicated real-life training space, mentoring women to standClothing Exchange a great boost for unemployed women 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.

Since its ‘soft’ opening in August, two women have found employment largely based on their involvement in helping set up First Impressions.

Adding to these inspiring success stories, Cire has secured a work-for-the-dole partnership with local job provider, Employment Plus, to help create opportunities for participants to gain lifelong employability skills, assisting the transition toward sustainable employment. Through the partnership, participants gain recognised hands-on work experience within a real work-like environment.

Employment Plus, estimates there are about 1205 unemployed women on their books throughout the Yarra Ranges. Employment Plus is just one of the job providers in the region so the actual number of unemployed women is much higher.

Another strong supporter is Voices of Women (VoW), a not-for-profit organisation based in the Yarra Valley that provides advocacy for women in the region ensuring their voices are heard in matters which concern them. VoW’s vision is for a society where women are safe, respected, valued, informed, empowered and free to make genuine choices in their lives. First Impressions directly aligns with VoW’s philosophy by supporting women re-entering or entering the workforce for the first time, and assisting them to boost their confidence and self-esteem and increase motivation and energy.

First Impressions has a sustainability and environmentally friendly footprint, with items being donated, recycled and reused, supporting sustainable and regenerative practices such as the circular economy and fair trade.

Thanks to the flexibility of a Mooroolbark Artist in Residence Project, First Impressions has been sharing a shop space at Mooroolbark. Cire is actively seeking financial support to open its own space in either Mooroolbark or Lilydale with the view of opening a second premises in Yarra Junction.

First Impressions recently received a small grant from Yarra Ranges Council to assist with shop fit-out and is featured on the Australian Women Donors Network’s project showcase.

Together we can build a brighter future

In July this year, Karen Armstrong, UYCH Community College Team leader – Innovation and Development travelled with a group of 14 women to Siem Reap in Cambodia. The trip was a culmination of months of hard work raising funds to help the people of Siem Reap by supporting Husk Cambodialearning about the Cambodian culture and how we can all benefit from helping each other.

Karen was eager to come up with innovative ideas, one of those being a healthy eating recipe e-book, which saw community members get involved by contributing recipes for the venture. The group discussed a variety of ways to raise funds from organising a 60’s dance night to providing massages. This determination paid off resulting in over $10,000 being raised. This was a huge achievement as it exceeded the amount required to fund the community work that was planned for the trip. Originally they were asked to raise $2,400, so this allowed them to change the scope of the project and distribute the money between three charities that the group visited during their trip.

The largest project they funded was building a home for a young family. This was truly a team effort, the carpenter built the frame and the group helped the family members construct the walls and lay the floor. They also helped make wheelchairs for children and adults who are still being injured as the result of landmines left by the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s.

“I found this to be a very rewarding experience, which was made more so because their previous hut would have been deemed unsafe for them to live in during the monsoon flood season.” Karen Armstrong – Team Leader Innovation and Development

Karen also had the opportunity to visit two local schools. During her visit she was able to get creative by participating in an art project with the children, making paper birds and observing classroom delivery in order for her to gain knowledge from an educational perspective.

While the trip was organised by a local yoga and pilates instructor and had elements of relaxation and meditation, the lasting memories from Karen’s trip came from the charity work that she and the other women had the privilege to partake in.

Not only did this project help the Siem Reap community, Karen was able to utilise what she had learnt from the experience and take it into her own classroom back home. Her Certificate IV in Education Support students were able to use the information in their assessment tasks. This showcased how important these projects are to our local community and abroad. Sharing cultural experiences and making a difference to people’s lives is what serving the community is all about, together we can build a brighter future.

“Spending time getting to know the local community is an experience I will never forget; it has also given me further insight into the needs of our close neighbours.” Karen Armstrong – Team Leader Innovation and Development

If you are interested in building a career in community services the first step is gain a qualification. UYCH Community College offers nationally accredited courses that can help you achieve just that, click here for further information or call 1300 835 235.

To find out more about education volunteer work visit Ponheary Ly Foundation.