With a passion for social justice, and having some academic acknowledgement, volunteer work with Lifeline and various life lessons under her belt, Jess Denham has big plans for the future. Jess is one of our local youth who hopes to ultimately forge a career in the Social Work Industry …
Hi Jess. What brought you to the Greater Port Macquarie area?
I have been in Port Macquarie for around twelve years now and definitely consider Port Macquarie home. I originally came to Port as my dad had just finished his university degree and was offered his first job here. I have left a few times to start uni in Sydney and then went back to Sydney again for a little while after I had my son, but I keep coming back home!
You’ve recently studied a Diploma in Community Services at TAFE. What led you to study in this field?
I think what led me into this field was that through high school I was involved with World Vision and was nominated to attend the Young Leaders conference and the Young Women’s leadership seminar, which led me to receive the Port Macquarie High School citizenship award in 2009 and The Hastings Young Citizen of the Year award in 2010.
Although these may be quite some time ago now, I feel as though they formed the fundamental foundations towards my passion for social justice, learning my place within the world and how I could make a difference. I worked really hard through Years 11 and 12 to get into social work at the University of Sydney; however, as life happens, I completed two years of that degree before I came back home to have my son. After three years off from studying to be at home with my son, I was definitely ready to get back into it.
So, originally it probably started from the happy feeling I got from doing these things through school, but when I started my Diploma in Community Services and got back into study, it had definitely become so much more than that. I feel that from my life experiences and a broader understanding of the world, I now have this huge passion for social justice, and it really is the driving force in my life for everything that I do.
You achieved some recognition for your studies too! Tell us about the award you were nominated for …
I recently won an award at the Port Macquarie TAFE awards of excellence – the Diploma of Community Services award of excellence, and then an added surprise of the night was to also be nominated for Student of the Year for the Port Macquarie campus, alongside two other nominees.
I remember receiving the phone call from TAFE to invite me along and kind of just thinking they’d called the wrong person! Prior to this award I won an achievement award at the Community Services award night at the Port Macquarie campus to celebrate finishing our Diploma. I remember standing there listening to an amazing teacher of mine, Katrina Cameron, saying all of these really wonderful words about a student, before announcing that it was me. I held back tears a little, and I was just in shock.
I faced a lot of personal challenges at my time at TAFE, so it just felt so incredible to be recognised for everything. Receiving the phone call that I was nominated for this award was kind of a similar feeling. Then an added surprise to the night was having my name called out as a nominee for Student of the Year. That really was so incredible, and I felt so grateful that my teachers had thought of me for that award. I had just started university at CSU that week too, so it gave me so much confidence that I really could keep achieving academically.
And you also do some volunteer work with Lifeline?
I have recently completed my Crisis Supporter training at Lifeline Mid Coast, which was a really incredible experience with such a beautiful group of people. I now volunteer there once a week on the phones as a Crisis Supporter, answering the 13 11 14 calls. I am still in my probationary period, so I have a number of hours to complete on the phones and some supervision to attend, but so far I love being a part of the Lifeline family.
What is the most rewarding thing about your volunteer work?
I took on Lifeline training to give me some more practical experience for some of the things we were doing at TAFE, but it became so much more than that. I met some wonderful people, who have spent years volunteering for Lifeline, and I felt so humbled to be a part of it.
I learnt a lot of things about myself, my values, to question my judgments, and I became so much more self-aware, which is so fundamental in Social Work and Community Services.
I love the feeling of giving back to the community, but mostly I love that after every shift at Lifeline the people on the phones have taught me something and I’ve learnt something more about myself.
You also like to run … what have been some of your personal best achievements in this area?
I think just getting out and running has really been an achievement in itself for me! I find juggling and balancing everything can be quite difficult, because I am a working and studying single mum.
For me, parkrun has been a really wonderful thing to be a part of; my son and I go along there every Saturday morning, and he cheers me on while I run.
Being a part of the local running community and my running group, The Plodders, has enabled me to feel more happy and confident out there running and cheering everyone else too. My PB time for Parkrun (5 km) is 22.47, which is a huge achievement, but I just love being out there with everyone.
What are your goals?
I am focused on finishing my Social Work degree here at CSU. My experience so far has been incredible; it is such an inclusive university. I have two years to go until I finish my degree and I start placement this year, which is really exciting. I think having that time off study and a whole range of life lessons and experience has really made finishing uni and beginning a career in Social Work one of my biggest goals.
I have no idea where it will take me or what field I will end up in, but I am so passionate and eager to be out there in the industry.
Interview by Jo Robinson.