Bringing a smile to people’s faces

19 Mar 2015   |   Blog   |   Australia   |   Long-term Development

Tags:  First Australians Program   |   10 comments

Jenny, a Aboriginal Financial Literacy Worker with Centacare

I see sadness when people first walk in... By the end of the week I see smiles, lots of talking..."

This year for Close the Gap day Jennifer Higgins, an Aboriginal Financial Literacy Worker with Centacare Wilcannia Forbes’ Manage Your Income (MYI) program, spoke to us about the differences the program makes in the lives of the people she works with. National Close the Gap Day is a day to celebrate people like Jenny, and the many successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led programs around the country that are changing lives.

The Manage Your Income program has been developed by First Australians to support Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people with money management in rural and remote areas of Western NSW. The program includes workshops such as ‘Understanding Money’, ‘Strive 2 Drive’ and ‘Take Control’ that support participants to budget their household expenses, save for personal goals, pay off debt, and achieve a learners driving licence amongst many other things. Jenny’s core work involves planning, developing and delivering these financial workshops.

Jenny describes the importance of the MYI programs:

“I see sadness when people first walk in. I see people very withdrawn, and quietness, and shyness. By the end of the week I see smiles, lots of talking. By the third day they are engaging with me, having conversations, asking me questions, asking if I can help out.”

Opening a world of opportunities

In remote areas having access to a driver’s license is essential for people but there can be many barriers including literacy, finding the right information and the need for identification documents such as birth certificates, which many people don’t have. During ‘Strive 2 Drive’ MYI workers support the participants to overcome all these barriers.

Jenny describes the feeling after the workshop when people achieve their learners licence:

They feel overwhelmed to achieve such an important thing in their life that they have needed, but didn’t have the experience or knowledge, understanding of how to get it. You can see the difference in them when they get it. They are so excited. It gives them independence.

"It gives them job opportunities; it gives them family support as they can transport their family around. They can come to town now and get a decent food order without having to pay hundreds of dollars in a remote community store. It’s a massive impact. It’s so rewarding to me… they walk away with the biggest smile because of this achievement. It’s magic!”

Sally’s journey of change

One experience that particularly stands out for Jenny involves Sally, a young girl in a mental health hospital who wanted her licence:

“I had to work with her one on one in the mental health ward. I guided her through the information. She never once spoke to me. 6 whole weeks I sat there talking to her, 2 hours a day, not one word. I know she listened and she answered questions on the laptop. After the course I explained that she was ready to go for her L’s and that, because she was over the age of 25, she didn’t have to do the 120 hours in the log book. She looked at me and said “Are you serious?!” I looked at her and said “Oh my God, you spoke to me!” I had tears in my eyes. She said “I don’t talk to people cause I don’t like them but I like you, you’ve just given me something that is going to change my life”.

"I kept working with her and we did 'Understanding Money' after she came out of the hospital. From there she learnt how to come into a group. We engaged her, she got her provisional licence, finished the 'Take Control' program, finished 'Understanding Money'.

She was able to gain her children back. She got casual work and a house and now lives in a house with her two beautiful children, holds a job and still attends programs and is loving life. That’s just through starting her off with the 'Strive 2 Drive' program.

"She talks to me now. I’ve helped her have a debt waived. If she sees me in the street, she’ll come up to me and say hello, she’ll ring me if she has a problem.”

Jenny’s own story

A Manage Your Income program workshop

I think getting this job has opened my eyes and also taught myself how to budget, how to save."

Jenny’s work with MYI has also changed her own life, as she explains:

“My whole life has changed in quite a big way, that I never thought. If you would have said I would be doing this 5 years ago I would have laughed at you because there was no way, I never saw myself in this kind of role. Today, I don’t think I could be without this kind of role.

"I grew up on a station. Station life was pretty good, I did School of the Air. People ask me ‘how did you get such a good job?’ as I only went up to year 8 in school. I didn’t get a full education – but I’m educated now!

"I never knew how much was out there until I got this position. I was your everyday girl that got paid, blew her money and worried about the consequences later. I think getting this job has opened my eyes and also taught myself how to budget, how to save. 5 years ago I didn’t own a car, house – I own two houses and two cars now. This is very rewarding.

"I have a passion for this job. From the time you wake up, to the time you knock off and go home you are still thinking about your work. My brain doesn’t really shut off. I’m always trying to come up with new ideas to make the workshop better. I get phone calls left right and centre, referrals from all different types of services. People ring me up; ’Can I come on your program?’ ‘Can I join a waiting list?’ Every day I’m getting referrals, more and more…"

Just a bit of happiness

"Seeing people walk away with a smile on their face, they shake my hand, they hug me, they cry, they write me letters - just that is enough to say ‘hey I’m doing the right thing, doing my job’. That’s my reward. Just to see them walk away with a smile on their face, just a bit of happiness.”

The Manage Your Income program also featured in Karen’s story, in week three of Project Compassion 2015.

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  • -

    “Thank you Caritas for this great opportunity of telling my story of bringing smiles to people faces ”

  • Jennifer Higgins

    “Thank you Caritas the story is fantastic. ”

  • Caritas Australia

    “Thank you to you Jennifer for sharing your story with us, and for all the incredible work you do with the Manage Your Income program!”

  • Beverley Daley - Community Justice Program

    “I would just like to say... JENNY you are an inspiration and a brilliant role model to all, with out your help and support and understanding there would still be a lot of communities going without the important knowledge and the training that helps them get along in life and to better them selves both financially and their wellbeing. Well done.”

  • David Garland Senior Family Mediation Practitioner CentaCare Broken Hill Wilcannia- Forbes

    “I would like to make comment about the excellent work that Jennifer Higgins does and the benefits to the communities of Broken Hill and surrounding districts. I have worked for the same organization and for the same amount of time and in the same office space as Jenny for 5 years. We talk about her work (no names) and to hear her success stories and see her creativeness in developing ideas into concrete results is tremendous. As a senior family mediation practitioner I have over the years had the very good fortune to have been able to refer indigenous clients to Jenny, and the appreciation that they have of her help has been reported back to me in glowing terms. Keep up the good work Jenny.”