BY LIZ CLARKSON
Many good ideas have developed during a cuppa and a chat around the kitchen table, which is what prompted Rita Bottomley and Michelle Jobson to start Go Girls.
Eager to help empower women, the two psychologists began their organisation running groups for mothers and daughters, teen mothers, and survivors of ovarian and breast cancer – all on a voluntary basis.
Originally meeting as neighbours and discovering they shared the same career, the two started meeting in each other’s kitchen and eventually begun working together. This was when Rita and Michelle realised they shared a passion for the advancement of women; they urged to develop a program that would make a difference in the community beyond their usual consultations.
“It took us a while to find what we really wanted to do.” said Rita “We wanted to help women in transition, especially given the financial impact of domestic violence.” In 2013 they found their niche and designed Step Up & Go. The new program started operating with its first group of women in 2014 and has gone from strength to strength in the years since.
The five month program springboards women from a situation of unemployment, and magnifies their commitment to find work. The participants vary in age and cultural backgrounds. Likewise, their circumstances for being out of work include raising children, struggling with difficult relationships and domestic violence, depression, anxiety and lack of confidence.
On average, 60% of participants find full time employment, 20 to 30% finds part time or casual employment, and the remainder participate in volunteer work or enrol to study.
This is the third year the Women’s Information & Referral Exchange (WIRE) has been promoting the Step Up & Go program to its service users. WIRE offers employment assistance to women through job coaching and employment workshops, and was approached by the Go Girls Foundation to help identify women who would be interested in joining Step Up & Go.
Julie Kun, CEO of WIRE, knew many women who wanted more than WIRE could offer and had no difficulty referring them to the Step Up & Go program. Many of WIRE’s service users have now successfully graduated from the program.
Step Up & Go seeks to give all possible tools to its participants to rebuild their confidence and improve their chances of finding employment. Thus, the program collaborates with a number of like-minded organisations and supporters to reach its goals.
Towards the end of the program, participants spend a day at Wear for Success in South Melbourne, an organisation that provides high quality recycled clothing for people requiring professional attire. The day’s agenda includes a professional review of their resumes from Susan Pincus of Career Moves, practising for job interviews with roleplays by 3M Capital, reviewing their working wardrobe from Wear for Success and learning about make-up from Lucia Cardamone from Nutrimetics. In addition, Rita and Michelle arrange ‘industry links’ for the women to contact and begin to network in their communities and be supported in their path beyond the program.
The Go Girls Foundation now has a board of directors, several committees and volunteers. Fund-raising plays a major role to ensure the professional delivery of the program. Rita and Michelle were paid for the first time in 2016; until that point all of their program preparation, board meetings, fund-raising activities and multitude of communications was voluntary.
Today Energy Alliance and the ABD Building Group are two of Go Girls’ largest sponsors, with smaller businesses also contributing and sponsoring the foundations’ work. The main fund-raising event is the Girls Night Out, held annually in May, with tickets always selling out. The event showcases the businesses of women sponsors during an evening of sumptuous food, entertainment and prize giving. A percentage of sales from the attending businesses is donated to the Go Girls Foundation.
Maria Salgado, graduated from the program in 2015. She had been an accountant in taxation law and management in Colombia for 20 years before migrating to Australia to study English. She completed the full English language program at Deakin University and has also earned a CPA qualification, yet finding work remained difficult until she joined the program through WIRE.
“The program helped me to inspire myself and believe in myself” said Maria, whose 22 year old son reassured that she could do it. “It was a long journey. I had goals along the way so I found it easier to finish and keep inspired” she adds. Maria is now employed full time as an accountant with an import company. She continues to dream of one day running her own accounting firm.
Tania Anthonisz now beams with smiles at work. Tania found permanent part time work at a Spotlight store where she has made new friends and thrives on the positive feedback from customers.
Tania approached her GP in early 2016 when she noticed a familiar dip in her self-esteem recurring. She met Rita and began the program. “The Step Up & Go program is enlightening, supportive & encouraging. A lot of us were going through similar things and we all benefitted from sharing how we felt and realised we were not alone”, said Tania.
Sara Portelli’s journey resonated Maria and Tania’s sentiments. “I had a lot of support and people pushing me to make me think about what I wanted. It is a non-judgemental and safe environment for exploring who I am and what I want.”
Sara has a passion for pilates and is now in a full time reception role in a combined physiotherapy and pilates studio. Sara hopes to teach pilates and do further training in the field to help people learn to enjoy both exercise and body movement.
Since its inception, the Step Up & Go program has been attended by 35 women with the majority staying through to completion. A graduation ceremony is held each November and all sponsors and industry link supporters are invited to attend. Sara Portelli summed up what most people were saying at the 2016 graduation: “I fully believe in the Step Up & Go program. What Rita and Michelle are doing is amazing. It gives you back yourself.”
As the start date for the 2017 program draws close, Rita and Michelle continue to lobby politicians, business and community leaders to support their work. Add to this a second support program that Rita and Michelle facilitate for breast cancer survivors, it is easy to recognise that the value of their contribution to the community is inestimable.
This year women residents of the City of Moreland will most likely be participating in Step Up & Go, further validating the Go Girls Foundation’s work with the community. The success of their idea and how it can help more people is something Rita and Michelle discuss each week, as they continue to meet for a cuppa in each other’s kitchen.
The 2017 Girls Night Out is Friday 19th May and tickets are already selling fast. In addition, Rita and Michelle have planned a comedy night on the Saturday 2nd September 2017. The show, to be held Durkin Hall at St Johns Parish in Mitcham will be hosted by Tom Seagart with a bill that includes Dave O’Neil, Tripod and Georgina McEncroe. More information is available on the Go Girls Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GoGirlsFoundation
Liz Clarkson is an emerging photographer and contributor to the Northsider, including articles, On the Scene and Melbourne Snap. To see more of Liz’ work you can press here.