By Gabriella Payne
Dandenong not-for-profit Wellsprings for Women has been recognised with not one, but two awards at the annual learn local awards ceremony, held virtually by Neighbourhood House Victoria at the end of last year.
Winning both the publicly voted ‘people’s choice award’ and the ‘innovation in a time of Covid acknowledgement award’, the team at Wellsprings were commended for their dedication and outstanding work throughout the year, despite all the challenges they faced.
The chief executive officer of Neighbourhood Houses Victoria, Nicole Battle, said that despite celebrating virtually, it was fantastic to take a moment to reflect on the incredible community work that many had done throughout the state.
“Congratulations to all the neighbourhood houses who were honoured at this year’s learn local awards,” Ms Battle said.
“I’m so proud of the impact our sector continues to have in this space.”Ms Battle said that after one of the toughest years many had faced in recent times, it was inspirational to see organisations such as Wellsprings adapt and persevere with their work, despite all the challenges.
“Keeping already vulnerable learners engaged throughout the lockdowns hasn’t been easy, especially when one of the main benefits that separates ‘learn locals’ from the big institutions is their friendly and personalised approach to learning,” Ms Battle said.
“For many learners where technology and language are already big barriers, learning online can be daunting and understandably in some cases, not feasible.”
Indeed, for many of Wellsprings’ clientele, the majority of whom are disadvantaged migrant and refugee women, learning online posed new challenges as many did not have internet access or computer literacy skills.
Dalal Smiley, chief executive officer at Wellsprings for Women, said that she was proud of the way her staff acted quickly and used initiative, gaining funds to ensure that their services were accessible and could continue during Melbourne’s lockdown.
“It was easy for us to get online, but if none of the women are able to access their classes, then what’s the point?” Ms Smiley said.
“So we were able to get funding to get computers, laptops, webcams, internet access and an IT help desk and we helped a lot of the women learn how to connect online and how to use Zoom, and we managed to engage with almost 90 percent of our women by doing that.”
Ms Smiley said the team at Wellsprings were “thrilled” by the news of their award wins, stating that after such a hard year, it came as a lovely surprise to know that the efforts they’d made to help vulnerable women had been noticed by the community.
“We don’t do it to be recognised, we do it to help women, but when someone notices and gives us a pat on the back, that encourages everyone to keep going,” Ms Smiley said.
She noted that these awards would not have been possible if it weren’t for the incredible work by the “amazing group of staff and volunteers”, who were “always willing to help” on any job, no matter how big or small.
Minister for Training, Skills and Higher Education, Gayle Tierney, said that organisations such as Wellsprings had a crucial role to play in the post Covid recovery phase and were to be congratulated for their hard work.
“In this year of challenge and change, first through bushfires and then coronavirus, ‘learn locals’ are also playing a vital role in Victoria’s economic and social recovery – whether it be building community capacity and resilience, or helping grow our skilled workforce,” Ms Tierney said.
“By being embedded in their communities, ‘learn locals’ draw upon the skills and knowledge of local trainers with industry experience who are committed to helping learners build new, real-world skills and improve their lives.”
Ms Smiley was excited about the upcoming projects Wellsprings has planned for 2021, including a cultural cuisine social enterprise which aims to purchase a food truck in order to get some of the women cooking and catering for different local events, providing income to them in the long run.
“We are looking for funding to get a food truck, so that some of the women will be able to get an income to provide for their families,” Ms Smiley said.
“The level of unemployment in Dandenong is going to be quite high, more than ever – it’s predicted around 20 percent – and migrant and refugee women will be the most affected by unemployment. So we’re hoping that if we get a food truck and get the catering and social enterprise going, that will be a big help to some of the women.”
As well as the food truck plan, Wellsprings are looking to build a ‘women’s shed’ this year, where women will be able to train in “non-traditional areas”, such as trades, plumbing, electricity, doing woodwork and using power tools.
To learn more or get involved with the centre, visit https://www.wellspringsforwomen.com/ or visit the team at 79 Langhorne Street, Dandenong.