The recipients of the 2017 Illawarra International Women’s Day scholarships are a diverse group, yet they all share a common aim.
The five women – an athlete, an artist, a singer-songwriter, a business professional and an educator – all use their talents and passion to empower other women in their communities.
And each of the award winners plans to use their $2000 grant to not only achieve personal goals, but also to continue their efforts to assist others.
Recipient Michelle Rush – awarded this year’s Aunty Mary Scholarship for Indigenous Women – will use the funds to assist women and their children escaping family violence.
It’s a cause close to home for the Woonona woman, who for the past decade has used her personal experience of family violence to help other Aboriginal women to break the cycle.
‘’I was a victim of domestic violence for 15 years and I’m honoured to share my strengths and weaknesses with my people,’’ Ms Rush said. ‘’So for the past eight years I have volunteered my time to educate and support young Aboriginal students, as well as mature age women in the community.
‘’I’ve also opened my doors for women who were too scared to return home, and the funds of the scholarship will allow me to provide more women with emergency accommodation, food, travel and medical costs.’’
Ms Rush, manager at Woolyungah Indigenous Centre at the University of Wollongong, said she was honoured to receive the award.
‘’It’s named after respected Aboriginal elder Aunty Mary Davis – someone who would always stand up, and speak up, for our people. I remember her telling me to fight what I believe in, and that’s what I’m doing.’’
Helping others break free of domestic violence is also a passion for singer-songwriter Lucy Mills, who was awarded the Creative Spirit Scholarship for Women.
The Gwynneville woman’s debut single Daniel, was written for a woman close to her – who died at the hands of her husband. In 2015 and 2016, the 25-year-old performed the song at the candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence at Illawarra’s Reclaim the Night March.
‘’I feel strongly about women’s rights and standing against domestic violence,’’ she said. ‘’These are the themes I explore through my music, and I hope to use the grant to develop these and share them with a wider audience.’’
For Sarah Lisle – the winner of the Cate Stevenson Scholarship for Women (Education, Business and Community Service) – empowering the younger generation to make positive changes in their communities is vital.
The Keiraville woman does just that through her volunteer work with international youth organisation, Junior Chamber International.
‘’I entered the award as I resonated with the profile of Cate Stevenson, who was a successful businesswoman with a strong commitment to community,’’ Ms Lisle said. ‘’I feel like I’ve also tried to work with a business head, but an empathetic heart.’’
The scholarship will help Ms Lisle, a community engagement co-ordinator at UOW, attend the JCI Asia Pacific conference in Mongolia in June.
The Beryl Lewis Scholarship for Older Women recipient Libby Bloxham has also juggled her career with community work.
Among other worthy causes, the Primbee resident was the creator of The Bubble Ball, a breast cancer fundraiser which has raised over $100,000. Also involved with Circus WOW and Red Point Artists Association, she’s a founding member of the Illawarra Association for the Visual Arts.
‘’I enjoy voluntary, community work but it does mean I’ve neglected my own arts practice to some extent,’’ Ms Bloxham said.
‘’In 2000 I won Sculptures by the Sea at Bondi, with my work celebrating human diversity. I’ll be using the grant to continue with this theme and create a new body of work about women achieving their potential.’’
Cyclist Chloe Heffernan, 18, is the final award recipient, gaining the Kerryn McCann Scholarship for Women (Sports).
A member of the Illawarra Academy of Sport, she’s been successful in track and road racing at both state and national levels.
She’s also found time for volunteering and fundraising work for a range of charities including Share the Dignity, which provides sanitary items for vulnerable women in the community.
‘’The Wollongong community has given me so much through the academy, and it’s good to be able to give back,’’ she said. ‘’It’s also a great honour to win an award named after such an inspirational woman.’’
The grant will help her with competition expenses.