Jessica Brown World Health Day Interview
April 7 marks World Health Day, and we want to emphasise the importance of emotional wellbeing for overall health as well as physical wellbeing.
Established in 2003, non-government funded charity Life Changing Experiences Foundation (LCEF) has fought tirelessly to help hundreds of at risk teenage girls. LCEF's main initiative is the SISTER2sister 12-month mentoring program that matches these girls with a Big Sister mentor to guide and support them to make positive changes in their lives.
Interview with Jessica Brown
Jessica's career started with teaching music in secondary schools after completing a degree in music education at the University of New South Wales. Her 10 years' teaching experience, together with her unchanging devotion to her students in public secondary schools, led to her many achievements, including the NEITA Foundation's highly prestigious National Excellence in Teaching Award in 1998 for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching.
Jessica's personal goal to reach out and help alleviate the suffering of disadvantaged and underprivileged youth inspired her to form the Life Changing Experiences Foundation (LCEF) in September 2003, giving young girls the chance to break the cycle of destitution and abuse by attending the SISTER2Sister program. This 12-month mentoring and personal development program matches successful corporate and business women with troubled teenage girls.
Jessica won the Pride of Australia Award in 2006 for common sense, compassion and wisdom while teaching, coaching and mentoring others to be the best they can be. She was the youngest medal winner for the 2007 Manly Daily Centenary Medal for Outstanding Service to Education. Jessica was runner-up for the Australian Centre for Leadership Women's 2007 National Leadership Achievement Award for Women, in recognition of her outstanding leadership skills and achievements as a leader in the Australian community. She also won a Zonta Women of Achievement Award in 2008.
Jessica has been featured on Sky Business News, the ABC's Stateline, Channel 7 news, 9am with David and Kim, the Circle, Sunrise and Kerri-Anne promoting LCEF's SISTER2Sister program. She was profiled in the Sunday Magazine, Grazia, Prevention Magazine, Madison, Who's Who of Australian Women, the Daily Telegraph, The Australian, Cosmopolitan, Notebook, New Idea, Vive, BRW, That's Life Magazine and Who Magazine's most beautiful people edition and more.
In 2011, Jessica was chosen as the NSW representative for Commonwealth Bank's Launching Local Heroes program and the Face of the Commonwealth Bank in all branches of NSW.
Jessica was one of the 100 people profiled in the Commonwealth Bank's 100 Years together Centenary history book http://www.commbank.com.au/images/about-us/centenary/pdf_100yearstogther.pdf
In 2011 Jessica co produced her first book 'Cooked with love-recipes my mother taught me" with 100% of the proceeds going to the SISTER2sister program.
In 2011 Jessica was profiled in Amanda Cole's book 'Who Needs Prince Charming".
Jessica is regularly asked to comment in the media about women's issues, and offer parenting advice on key topics relating to teenagers such as Bullying, Cyber safety, teenage crime and most recently the dangers of 'Sexting".
In 2013, Jessica was a finalist in the NSW Women of the Year Awards-People's Choice category, an initiative of the Office of Women and has been nominated for the Citizen of the Year Award as well as the Hesta Community Awards.
In 2010 Jessica suffered her own personal tragedy when her younger brother was killed in a violent crime. Jessica's extraordinary compassion was further established when she found out the man convicted of killing her brother had experienced a life of poverty, violence and abuse. This fuelled her passion to ensure that vulnerable teenage girls are given the necessary support to overcome domestic abuse, strive for an education and are prepared for motherhood.
Jessica Brown has changed the course of hundreds of young women's lives.
'By helping one vulnerable girl at a time, we are positively changing the lives of future generations to come by turning walls into bridges"
'I didn't want to provide a band aid for the deeply entrenched generational problems in our society. I designed a program that addresses the core issues, starting with the lack of a stable positive role model."-Jessica Brown
For more information on Jessica's work please visit www.lifechangingexperiences.org
Question: I know you were a teacher for 10 years but was there a particular incident or catalyst for you starting Life Changing Experiences Foundation?
Jessica Brown: Yes. I saw the difference between the students who were struggling in class and the ones who were thriving. The ones who were getting in to trouble really just needed someone to not judge and listen rather than being put on detention for not doing their homework because they had chaos in the home the night before.
Question: Where do you find the Big Sisters and little Sisters?
Jessica Brown: Docs, Police domestic violence departments, schools, women's refuges and other youth services.
Question: How many girls are currently enrolled on the program?
Jessica Brown: Our model takes up to 50 Big and Little Sister matches each year but it always pending on funding.
Question: What do you think are the key mental health issues facing teenage girls at the moment?
Jessica Brown: For my girls self harm , depression and PTSD.
Question: What more do you think could be done at school and by parents to assist teenage girls with their emotional wellbeing and mental health?
Jessica Brown: For my girls the lack of a stable positive role model is the issue and many don't have parents (they have case workers and carers). School teachers should have specific trauma training so that they can identify kids who really need more support. The department of education needs to provide the support the teachers to facilitate that. We need more funding so that teachers can refer their girls in need to the SISTER2sister program.
Question: What is the vision for Sister2Sister going forward - is a national roll-out of the program on it?
Jessica Brown: To help as many marginalised teenage Australian girls to become strong independent women capable of taking their place in the world so yes national role out.
Question: How can Australian's get behind the program?
Jessica Brown: Head to http://lifechangingexperiences.org/donate/ for more information on how to help, or to donate.
Kristen and Aiesha Big and Little Sister Interview
Question: What is your background and how were you nominated for SISTER2sister?
Kristen: A good friend of mine (Lorraine Murphy) was a Big Sister the year before I got involved- she felt that I'd make a good Big Sister candidate. It sounded like such a wonderful, fascinating program that was making a real difference in the lives of the girls that I applied to be a Big Sister (and was accepted!).
My background: I'm Australian, but had a very nomadic childhood- by the time I graduated from high school I'd attended seven schools in three countries (Australia, Malaysia and the UAE), somewhere along the line becoming an expert in being the 'new kid'! After school, I studied communications at CSU in Bathurst and then continued my travels, working for PR agencies in Sydney, Dubai and London. I returned home to Sydney about 6 years ago.
Question: What was your greatest experience being a Big Sister mentor?
Kristen: The best part about being a Big Sister is seeing how far the girls progress in the space of a year- the "anything is possible" lesson is one we can all stand to be reminded of from time to time. SISTER2sister gives the little (and big!) sisters the chance to challenge themselves and try things they never thought they would or could do.
Getting to know these amazing girls, many of who have already had to deal with issues that adults twice their age would struggle to manage, seeing them grow in confidence, and recognising a new set of horizons for what's possible in their lives is really inspirational. I am pretty sure I got as much - or more - out of being involved in the program as Aiesha did.
Question: What impact did your Little Sister have on your life? Are you still in contact with your Little Sister?
Kristen: Aiesha is a superstar- such a bright spark! We're certainly still in contact - although it's HSC time at the moment (nerve wracking even from a distance!), the world is her oyster. Aiesha has an amazing singing voice, she's very smart and creative, and she has clear goals for what she wants to achieve in life. On top of all that, she's one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I've ever met.
Aiesha has taught me to be more mindful of the people around me, to be grateful for the wonderful people in my life, and to try to be more understanding or curious about the more difficult characters we sometimes encounter. She has a great way of finding the positive in almost any situation, which I think we can all stand to learn from.
Question: Why should someone become a Big Sister mentor?
Kristen: Being a Big Sister is a really rewarding role- in addition to building a long term bond with your little sister, the other big sisters are a really inspirational, accomplished group of women that are all looking to make a positive difference in a young person's life.
I'm not sure if I have the power to make the whole world a better place on my own, but I believe that SISTER2sister has helped me make a real difference for the better in one young person's life. And imagine what a great world this would be if we could all say that!
Question: Why should people support SISTER2sister?
Kristen: Think about how tough and confusing and generally revolting being teenager was; if you were lucky enough to grow up in a comfortable home with a family that loved and supported you, imagine how much harder it would be if you took one or more of those things away, and no one cared enough to help you when you needed it. SISTER2sister is a wonderful program that mentors young women at a time when they are often most vulnerable. Jess and Marnee provide a stable and caring foundation for a group of girls who may have never before have experienced this kind of unconditional support- and the potential they see each of these girls realise, year after year, is a real inspiration. The world would be a poorer place without SISTER2sister.
Question: What obstacles in life have you been faced with and why were you nominated for SISTER2sister?
Aiesha: All I've ever known is my mother, my father wasn't a strong influence on my life growing up and I had minimal contact with other relatives besides my Aunties and Grandfather. From a young age my mum always taught me to be strong and to try my best. She was a constant reminder that anything is possible because she herself had a tough upbringing, yet she still thrived and had a strong passion for helping others. Without my mum I wouldn't be the person I am today. However when I was 12 years old my mother fell terribly ill with Liver Cancer. She passed away shortly after and it felt like I had lost my everything. She was my all and a life without her is new than unbearable. Learning to live without one of the most amazing human beings in the world was extremely difficult and on top of that I was dealing with the notions of starting high school and starting my journey of SPF discovery. Luckily my Aunties and Grandfather took me in and looked after me as they had when I was little. Although things were different because my mum wasn't there with us. My Aunty has been a blessing because without her I'd be lost in my grief, but she encouraged me an did everything possible to make sure I had the support I needed. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have found sister to sister.
Question: What impact has your Big Sister had on your life? Are you still in contact?
Aiesha: I was lucky to have attended the end of 2012 and then had the opportunity to start from the beginning in 2013. My big sister Kristen has been amazing. It is fantastic to have an older female influence and support in your life that isn't family sometimes. Kristen gave me a fresh look on life and helped broaden my support network as well as helping me with my career goals. Kristen and I are still and contact and I keep her very close to my heart to this day.
Question: Did the SISTER2sister program make an impact on your life? If so what impact did it make?
Aiesha: A lot of young girls struggling with their own individual issues may feel alone in their struggles. I know that when I lost my mum I felt like no one could understand and that I was alone in my pain. But sister to sister provides young girls with not only a big sister but little sisters as well. Talking to all the little sisters and getting to know them made me feel loved, I knew I wasn't alone. The program has helped me boost my confidence and embrace every opportunity without doubting myself. Without Jess and Marnee and the program I think I would still be struggling. I am now proud to say that I believe in myself and my capabilities and skills. My Aunty and mother have always taught me stand strong in who I am and do my best. I see a lot of my mum in Jess. She is an extraordinary woman who has been a mother, a friend and a sister to young girls who didn't have anyone or felt lost. I am truly blessed to have had this experience and the beautiful thing about the program is that once you finish the year I isn't over. Jess and all the big and little sisters stay in touch and you always have that support network and a place to call home.
Question: What have you achieved since graduating from the program?
Aiesha: I am currently in my last year of high school and looking into attending university next year. Without he the program I wouldn't have believed in myself to take that leap of faith. I've also stood out with my passion for music and have had some amazing opportunities that I wouldn't have taken if I was the person I was before the program.
Question: Why should people support SISTER2sister?
Aiesha: It is an amazing program! It isn't just about having a big sister it's about having a family and unfortunately some of these girls don't have that. No one should be denied the right to feel loved and that's exactly what the program does. It makes young girls feel loved and sometimes that's all someone needs to believe in themselves and achieve great things!