Renee McCarthy found time for a quick chat with the Yarrawonga Chronicle recently among her volunteer commitments, mentoring responsibilities and general very busy lifestyle.
Her schedule is a far cry from two years ago when she found herself at a crossroads in her life, when she says she had “decided to retreat”.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was headed,” she said.
“So I’d decided to retreat. I was just going to withdraw from everything.”
But something changed for Renee, in a fleeting moment of bravery she applied for the Women with Disabilities Victoria Enabling Women Leadership Program.
“I didn’t know what to expect and at first I wondered what I had got myself into when I sent of my application and got accepted,” Renee said.
“Then I went to the very first session and thought ‘ok, I’m meant to be here’.”
The Enabling Women Leadership Program offers women with a disability the chance to challenge themselves, discover their strengths, gain confidence and find a voice within their own community.
The free, six-week program, builds self-esteem, teaches participants about their rights as women and as a woman with a disability and develops leadership skills.
“I knew I was different. I knew I had a disability but that wasn’t a word we used when I was growing up,” Renee said.
“I learnt to accept myself for my strengths and my weaknesses. It was a journey of self-discovery that helped me focus on the positive and push the negative aside to achieve what I wanted to achieve.”
Program participants not only learn to advocate for themselves but also for others, setting them on a path of community advocacy and involvement that Renee has embraced.
She continues to be one of the longest serving volunteers with YNH Services – currently with the Oral History Group and in the role of disability support – and also volunteers to help run day programs with PALS (Providing All Living Supports).
Renee is a member of the Moira Shire Council Disability Advisory Group, a level one table tennis coach and was centre stage at last year’s National Day of Disability Concert held in Yarrawonga as the MC.
In a full circle journey, she was also a mentor to participants in the Enabling Women Leadership Program held recently in Wangaratta.
“I had a mentor during my program and we are still very close – we talk at least once a week,” Renee said.
“When the program was getting started in Wangaratta I became involved and when the opportunity came up to be a mentor I saw it as a chance to give something back that was so good for me.
“It’s really important for the women in the program to have someone to talk to so they can discuss any issues or ask questions. I was happy to be able to do that.”
Information sessions will be held in coming weeks for the 2017 Enabling Women Leadership Program to be hosted with in the Moira Shire area, running for six weeks from June 29 to August 3.
After realising first-hand the extraordinary benefit from completing the program, Renee had advice for any women considering getting involved.
“Just do it,” she said. “I would never have the confidence to do all of the things I am doing now if I had not done the program.
“I discovered who I am, I accepted who I am and I found a way to move forward.
“I learned to ride the wave of life and I’m still doing it now.”
An information session for the 2017 Enabling Women Leadership Program will be held at Yarrawonga Neighbourhood House on Thursday, June 8 from 9am to 10am.
To register for the information session, for more information, assistance to apply, or help with transport, please contact Jane Oldfield at Women with Disabilities Victoria on 9286 7807 or email [email protected]