Every year women in the Illawarra come together on March 8 to celebrate what it is to be female and the remarkable achievements some have made in the community.
This year seven role models have been honoured for their achievements in areas such as medicine, sport, business, creative arts, volunteer work and advocating for people with disabilities.
At a gala International Women's Day event at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday, each were awarded $2000 to help expand their knowledge, skill and/or experience. With the exception of the Creative Spirit Scholarship, all awards are named after inspiring Illawarra women who are no longer with us but left their mark on the region in the various ways.
Beryl Lewis Scholarship for Older Women: Annette 'Nanny' Holmes
After 25 years as a foster parent, 65-year-old Annette Holmes still thinks of all the children she may have helped if she started sooner.
"I just really believe that when they’re older they’re going to remember - even if they had a tough life - they were somewhere they were loved," she said.
Mrs Holmes has looked after 74 vulnerable children over the years, mainly newborns to infants. She also has permanent care of her two grandchildren - aged 11 and 14 - whom she calls her "team".
"They know now there’s lots of other kids who can’t live with mum and dad … they both want to be carers when they grow up," she said.
The scholarship money will be used to update care equipment for the children she looks after, as well as upskilling her abilities and technologies.
Kerryn McCann Scholarship for Women: Brea De Jonge
Winning the sports scholarship came as an absolutely shock for 17-year-old power lifter Brea De Jonge, as her mother secretly applied on her behalf.
The high school student has achieved numerous Australia, Oceania and Commonwealth records in the male dominated sport, and her mum Kisane thought it was time she was recognised.
"If you go on social media and wear scantily clad clothes you’ll get 1000 likes," Mrs De Jonge said. "You go on there and lift 200kg and do a world record you get no recognition whatsoever. The perception is it’s an easy thing to achieve, it’s not."
The scholarship money will help Brea continue her quest for national and international titles. She hopes to inspire other young women to follow their dreams whatever that may be.
"Dedication - if you just pick something and stick with it there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get somewhere and it all just sort of pans out," Brea said.
Cate Stevenson Scholarship for Women: Melissa Zammit
Having worked as a cancer nurse for the late Cate Stevenson, Melissa Zammitt felt her spirit was around and helped her receive this scholarship.
The single-mother of two now works as a counselor and healer to help women overcome past traumas, while she has also returned to university to complete a Masters in Social Work. She will use the money to help give her life more "balance".
"I don’t have family, but I am very lucky that I have the support of my ex-husband and his family," Miss Zammit said. "I think that's a tribute to some of the men in our lives that are stepping up and helping women achieve great things."
Gracie Wallis Scholarship for Women with a Disability: Mecenzi Howard
Mercenzi Howard, 21, has Spastic Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy and never dreamed she could study at university. Dreams do come true and now Miss Howard wants to "give back" as a youth worker in the justice system.
She has proved you can be whatever you want to be regardless of ability having been a junior and senior champion boccia player at the Paralympics, a motivational speaker in schools and studying a Bachelor of Social Sciences.
"Uni wasn't on my radar at all because I didn't see myself having all the support," she said. "Interchange Illawarra is the one that made me think outside the box."
Miss Howard also thanked the strong support from her mum and dad, and said she was excited to be able to help others in their journey through life.
"I wouldn’t be here if it wasn't for all those people who supported me," she said.
The scholarship money will assist university tuition and expenses.
Dr Margaret Gardiner Scholarship for Medical Research Related to Cancer: Carolyn Hollis
The death of Carolyn Hollis' father to a brain tumour several years ago was the catalyst for her returning to university. She is now completing a PhD in Medical Radiation Physics and working to improve outcomes for sufferers of brain cancer by combining nanotherapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Ms Hollis said winning the scholarship came as a surprise because she knows of many other remarkable women in the field.
"I realise there are a lot of other women doing cancer research in the Illawarra who are equally devoted and passionate about what they do," she said.
The money will go towards experiments and testing for her research.
Creative Spirit Scholarship for Women: Tameka Corderoy
Tameka Corderoy, 33, works in administration by day and is found with a paintbrush and easel by night.
Sometimes she's up creating original and commissioned works until 2am to the dislike of her husband, but art is her passion meaning the mum-of-one never stops.
"We’ve had to swap a few roles in the house - he’s had to take on some domestic roles; I can’t do everything," Mrs Corderoy said.
The scholarship money will be put into business training to be able to better market her art, her passion.
Aunty Mary Scholarship for Indigenous Women: Trichelle Andy
Trichelle Andy, 28, credits her grandmother - her rock - for raising her and getting her to where she is today. Without her Miss Andy would never have applied for a scholarship which she is so thrilled to use to help her further her studies.
Miss Andy currently works as a cadet at the Australian Tax Office and is incredibly career driven. She is also studying a Bachelor in Business Finance.
The scholarships began in 2009 by the International Women’s Day Illawarra Committee to encourage and empower women in the community, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, to excel in their chosen field.
"The IWD Illawarra Patron Judith Henderson inspired me to create awareness in our region of International Women’s Day," chairperson Vicki Tiegs said.
"Together we co-founded the current IWD Illawarra Committee in 2006. Our goal was to raise funds for local organisations providing support services to women and in the long term, create scholarships for women."