Julie Brady has a heart for people, and it shows! She was recently recognised for her volunteer work, achieving the title of Senior Volunteer of the Year, as well as being named Overall Winner for the Mid North Coast Region.
Hi Julie. Would you please tell our readers a bit about yourself, and how you ended up living in the beautiful Manning-Great Lakes region?
I was born into an aspirational Catholic family in Randwick in 1949. I was not fond of school and, ungratefully and ungraciously, resolved never to return. It took me many years to realise and appreciate what an excellent education we received from the nuns and other female teachers and what powerful, positive role models they were.
I started coming to Coomba Park over 20 years ago with my partner. I moved here full-time in 2003 to live very happily on a farm on the shores of Wallis Lake, raising beef cattle for fun rather than profit and providing a happy home for a large number of idle, pampered animals, including a few dogs, too many horses, and a retired dairy cow.
What is your “volunteer” journey so far?
I started volunteering locally with the Coomba Park RFS, served on the Coomba and District Hall Committee, helped to set up our after school programme ASHOW, and for some years tutored at Pacific Palms Primary School.
Nine years ago I was invited to join the Committee of Forster Neighbourhood Centre, for the last six years as Chair.
We received a huge offer of help from Sydney-based Women’s Community Shelters (WCS), who had heard of our local efforts. This was multiplied by a groundswell of community concern and support the likes of which I have never seen. This enabled us, from a standing start in April 2015, to open the doors of two shelters on 2nd January 2016 – a remarkable achievement. As Chair of Forster Neighbourhood Centre, the “mother” organisation, I found myself also chairing the task force which brought this community-driven initiative into being, and I duly became the President of the Board of Great Lakes Women’s Shelter Inc. (GLWS).
I also convene the Coomba Memorial Committee, and volunteer at the Coomba Brunch Café once a month.
Why volunteer? What does it mean to you?
While I never wanted to go into any of the traditional female “helping professions”, assisting people seems to be part of my DNA and certainly reflects my family’s rock solid values and practices. I seem to have a (good) compulsion to solve problems and set things to rights, and volunteering allows me – always working with others – to achieve some pretty good things, which is satisfying. When it comes to the brain, I believe in the “use it or lose it” adage, and volunteering sure helps with that!
Finally, “community” is a place where, whatever the state of “the world”, any person can have a positive influence.
What was the process involved in being nominated for, and then receiving, Senior Volunteer of the Year, and then Overall Winner for the Mid North Coast Region?
Well, it kind of snuck up on me. Stephen Bromhead asked me to provide a short bio, which I did, and then in September, I was mildly surprised to be reminded to attend the Centre for Volunteering Awards in Port Macquarie.
It is very pleasing to be recognised in that way, but the reality is, of course, that no-one achieves things without the help and support of many other volunteers and amazing staff, who all do wonderful work under tough conditions.
You are currently the President of both Great Lakes Women’s Shelter (GLWS) and Forster Neighbourhood Centre – can you please tell us a bit more about both these organisations?
Forster Neighbourhood Centre is where the rubber meets the road for the most disadvantaged members of our community. The problems that walk though their door, or to which they take outreach services, range from homelessness, family distress and dysfunction – to not having food to feed the kids tonight, needing a No Interest Loan to register the car to get to work or replace the refrigerator, or needing help to fill in a form.
There are so many good news stories… One of my favourites is the homeless young man who came in terrified after having slept in his car beside the road. That very day the Neighbourhood Centre gave him a swag to sleep in, rented a safe space in a caravan park, and some food to eat. No other organisation can respond on the spot like that. There is no bureaucracy, no hierarchy, just practical help, now! Within two weeks he had a job, was looking for somewhere to share and came back to say, “Thanks”!
GLWS is another success story, having forged a solid reputation for providing emergency accommodation and support services and has repaid the community’s faith many times over. In a short three years, the shelter has given the opportunity of a new start to around 80 women and more than 100 children.
Your career background includes executive business roles in the public and private sector – does this background help in terms of the voluntary roles you have taken on?
Until GLWS, all my volunteering was relatively easy … well within my skill set and time consuming, but not too onerous. However, it is fair to say that with occasional lulls and quiet times, this GLWS gig has consumed a lot of my life over the last three and a half years. Happily, it has made me dust off corners of my business brain that had lain undisturbed for a long time.
I sometimes say that all the many skills I acquired over a long career were boot camp training for the things I do now. A dedicated student of human behaviour, by trial and error I realised that people were energised by a sense of purpose, and that, while a bit of argy bargy seemed to be part and parcel of getting things done, making people laugh was a much more effective and pleasant way to go.
I joined the then Federal Department of Employment, Education and Training as an enlisted person and worked in the ‘70s and ‘80s, up to senior executive level in Canberra and NSW.
Looking around at 38, feeling restless and wondering “what next?”, I decided I needed the quickest, most career-useful qualification in the land, discovered that it was possible to get into an MBA program as a non-graduate, so I did (that is a whole story in itself). Graduating at the ripe old age of 40, I then launched myself into an unsuspecting private sector.
I worked for 12 years as an executive in insurance and health insurance, in manufacturing, and with a dot com start-up. My executive roles included Customer Service; Organisation Performance Planning; Organisation Change and Development; and Human Resources. After that I was self-employed for eight years as a management consultant, working with Boards, Executive teams and specialising in Governance and Board performance management, and corporate performance planning and management.
Skills I use every day include financial and operational planning and monitoring, managing and motivating people, fundraising, prioritising the million-and-one demands on my time. Finally, but most importantly, strategic planning skills allow me to help focus the Board and staff on the big things we have to get right.
Tell us about the grants that the GLWS has been successful in achieving and what this will mean for the organisation.
We are most grateful to the Member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead, for obtaining a Stronger Country Communities Fund grant of $605,000. Added to a private philanthropic grant from Perpetual Impact Grants of $150,000 and building funds we have, we now have over $800,000 to build a six-bedroom, purpose-designed shelter, hopefully by the end of 2020. From the ever-supportive community we also have many pledges of donations-in-kind of materials and labour, adding further value and expanding the scope of the project.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes. Really happy people are always looking outwards … for something to do for others – not worrying endlessly about their own stuff. Really happy people find something, or a range of things, that make them happy. So get out there and volunteer, or find a great hobby.
Also, believe in yourself and don’t be afraid of doing new things and trying things different ways. We too often worry: “What will happen if I do this?” or, “What will they say if I say that?”. While I can be really impatient to create progress by challenging “the norm” and pushing the edges of the envelope, I always try to remain respectful to others. That way no harm is created for anyone and I don’t have to be (too) embarrassed when I review the events of the day.
Interview: Ingrid Bayer.