By: Parker Sanchez
I Support The Girls (ISTG) is proud to announce the winner of the 2018 BRAvo Award: Jane Holmes, CEO and Affiliate Director of I Support The Girls Australia! Jane has received the award for her dedication to empowering women and supporting thousands of girls and women by helping them maintain their dignity.
“Jane’s been involved with ISTG since nearly the beginning, and has taken Dana’s idea and implemented our model seamlessly throughout all of Australia,” says Rachael Heger, ISTG’s Director of Affiliates. “Her efforts have resulted in numerous sponsorships and opportunities for the ISTG-Australia team, culminating with their first gala this past summer. Jane’s tireless efforts throughout Australia are an inspiration for our entire staff.”
Meet Jane –
I was born in South Africa and adopted by parents originally from New Zealand. In 1993, I left South Africa for New Zealand with my husband and two children. At the end of 2002, we moved to Australia with our then three children. I lost my husband to suicide at the young age of 39 in February 2005.
After this tragedy, I became part of a relatively new organization called Victim Support, a support service linked with the New Zealand Police and created to support victims at the front line of an event. Victim Support Counsellors would often arrive at a scene before the police and we would triage the victims and families and then assist them with connecting to support services. I was actively involved in writing the strategies and policies, my own experience in trauma driving me to want to help others.
I’ve always been actively involved in community volunteering, a value that was instilled in me by my father who was an incredible philanthropist and believed in always helping the disenfranchised person. I’ve researched and written articles on PTSD in the military, an issue close to my heart because of my husband’s military background. I lecture on the topic and also facilitate face to face suicide support for those family members left behind.
My career background was always in textiles, and I had my own textile business in South Africa. After the loss of my husband I had to find a new career to support my family, and used my background in both textiles and swimming to get involved in the swimwear and race-suit industry. I did this for 12 years prior to stepping away to build I Support The Girls Australia full time.
How did you first find out about the work done by ISTG?
In February 2016, I met a young girl in a shopping mall who approached me and asked me for sanitary items. I of course took care of her needs and then, over lunch, discovered she was under the care of two elderly homeless women. I asked her to take me to meet them, and got to know Lily, one of her caretakers who is a larger than life lady with an even larger bust! I couldn’t help but notice she wasn’t wearing a bra, and couldn’t fathom how anyone could cope in 110F weather without one. Lily told me she couldn’t afford one and hadn’t had a bra in four years. I suggested she go and see a support service like Salvation Army, but she told me none of them kept bras and certainly not in her size. This was when I started the journey to find a support service – I could not find any charity or group in Australia that actually facilitated the provision of bras. Through the magic of Facebook shares, I found Dana and wrote to her about starting a chapter in Australia.
What is your job at ISTG?
I am the Founder and CEO of I Support The Girls Australia.
What is the most satisfying part of your work at ISTG?
Empowering a woman with dignity and ensuring they have professional fittings, support and genuine face-to-face guidance.
How has that empowerment work affected a beneficiary of ISTG Australia?
There have been many stories that stick with me, but the one that stands out the most would be Kat. I met her in 2017 at a Homeless Connect event, and at the time she was suicidal and reaching out for help. We fitted her with a bra and the difference in her posture and poise was immediate and incredible. She emerged from the changing room feeling so supported, in more ways than one. From there she was mentored on a one-on-one basis for over a year. She found a job as a baker within a few months of us fitting her. Earlier this year, through her hard work and discipline, Kat purchased her own home so she will never be homeless again.
What is the biggest challenge you face locally with your work for ISTG?
As with so many non-profits, we struggle with financial resources! We have grown exponentially and with that has come higher operating costs. Our service are in great demand and we move our Bra Gifting Days to different locations to ensure a greater volume of women can attend from varied geographical areas.
What’s the most important fact people don’t know about homelessness in Australia?
How many different types of people that are homeless, and the causes that lead to homelessness. The image of homelessness is stigmatized – if you see any article in a magazine or newspaper it will always be some person sleeping in a gutter, looking completely unkempt. However, we rarely see this in the women we serve. We have women that you would not even imagine are homeless. We currently support a working teacher who lives in her car. She is marking exam papers via flashlight. This is the new face of homelessness.
What have you learned about homelessness since starting to work at ISTG?
That women are far less likely than men to come forward about their plight. The rate of homeless women globally is increasing at an alarming rate. There needs to be far greater awareness of what causes homelessness and education around it so people can be more understanding and also take preventative measures for themselves.
What does the word “charity” mean to you?
Charity to me is giving your time, advice, support and items freely and voluntarily with no strings attached. Giving is a choice to help.
Tell us more about the event recently held in Australia.
In August of this year, we hosted our first Inaugural Charity Gala event at the Palazzo Versace Hotel. The hotel had selected us in April as their charity of choice due to our authentic work and the integrity of the charity. They loved that we were supporting women face to face and making an impact with no funding but passion and the desire to see change. They offered us their ballroom and waived the fees. The purpose of the Gala was to raise funds for a much needed mobile support vehicle. We want to be able to do a lot more street support work and need a vehicle that is ideal to use as both a mobile support room and as a means to transport all the bras and products we carry to events. The Gala managed to raise $13,000, which is a start towards our goals.