As featured in The Country Web Number 59 Spring 2013 edition.
Jessica Brown is the founder and CEO of Life Changing Experiences Foundation and its SISTER2Sister mentoring program, which has changed the lives of hundreds of young women across NSW. She is also the winner of the 2013 People’s Choice Community Hero Woman of the Year Award.
For most people, it is easier just to be a bystander but not for this young powerhouse. Jessica is committed to helping disadvantaged and underprivileged young girls by giving them the chance to break the cycle of destitution and abuse.
The SISTER2Sister mentoring program is designed to empower ‘at risk’ teenage girls to make positive choices for a better future. Each Little Sister is matched with a Big Sister role model who is a professional woman from the community. Jessica oversees up to 50 Big and Little Sisters each year, along with a team of leaders and volunteer psychologists.
Her passion and determination for this generation to have a better future is what drives her. She is the one on the end of the phone in the middle of the night, finding emergency accommodation for the girls, or counselling them through experiences no person should ever have to endure. Jessica has encouraged young women to complete school and to pursue university studies, with some SISTER2Sister graduates being the first in their family to have a job.
In 2010 Jessica suffered her own personal tragedy when her younger brother was killed in a violent crime. Her 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.
In 2011, Jessica co-wrote her first book, Cooked with love: Recipes my mother taught me, with all the proceeds from sales of the book going to the SISTER2Sister program. No matter what the obstacle, Jessica finds a way to ensure her work continues. As she says, ‘By helping one vulnerable girl at a time, we are positively changing the lives of future generations to come by turning walls into bridges.’
Jessica’s goal is to roll the SISTER2sister program out nationally so that they can help as many teenage girls as possible to make positive choices for a better future. She says they are fortunate to have long waiting lists of volunteers throughout Australia who wish to be Big Sister mentors.
Jessica hopes to raise the necessary funds through a national campaign called Step up for SISTERHOOD—a day where women all over Australia can kick off their normal work shoes and slip into their most statement shoes. The campaign is all about “Stomping out abuse and neglect”. The inaugural event will take place on December 6 and it is hoped that it will grow each year. Jessica has changed the course of hundreds of young women’s lives—making her a true community hero.
So how did this powerhouse, who is an inspiration to many younger women, come to this point in her career? We asked Jessica to tell us about her childhood growing up in the Northern Beaches of Sydney, what led her to her current career, and where she gains her inspiration from.
‘I am the eldest of four children and grew up in the Northern Beaches of Sydney. All four of us attended the local high school and played in the school band, which lead me to pursue a career as a music teacher after completing a Bachelor of Music Education degree at the University of NSW.
After teaching high school for 10 years, and loving every minute of it, I realised that I had an entrepreneurial spark inside of me that wasn’t going away. ‘After much soul-searching and contemplation I kept coming back to what I was most passionate about and what I was good at. It always came back to making a difference in the community and taming unruly teenagers! I then had a light-bulb moment and realised that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and Life Changing Experiences Foundation was born that day.’I founded the SISTER2sister program so I could make a difference and follow my dream of working with troubled teenagers.
‘In terms of where I draw my inspiration from, apart from my wonderful mum (which is a given), one women who does stand out and that I was honoured to meet on numerous occasions before she passed away was Barbara Holborow. She changed my life after I read Those Tracks On My Face, and although I was already pursuing a career in child protection, if I had the choice of who I wanted to be when I grew up it would be her. ‘Barbara gave so much of herself throughout her life and never gave up fighting for the rights of children. She presented each year to my Little Sister mentees in the SISTER2sister program and each time you could have heard a pin drop. I can only dream of making the mark she did on the lives of others when it is my time to leave this world.
‘One of the greatest pieces of advice I have heard was Barbara’s motto: “Everyone in a community has responsibility for every child”. I live by this each day and try to be the best advocate I can be.
My personal motto is: “The past does not equal the future”. I believe the only reason you should look back is to reflect on how far you have come. You are a success story waiting to be written—so start writing. The only one who needs your approval is you—so go ahead and impress the pants off yourself!
My favourite quote is by Daniel Dennett: “The secret of happiness is to find something more important than you are, and dedicate your life to it.”