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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

Women’s Spirit Project

Women’s Spirit Project

The Women’s Spirit Project is a volunteer‑led initiative that aims to inspire and empower women facing adversities through fitness, health and wellbeing activities, and through building connections with other local women. It was established in recognition of issues facing women in the Bayside Peninsula Region in Victoria, such as social isolation, family violence, mental illness, psychological distress, unemployment and poverty.

Ms Jodie Belyea, founder of the project, said she created the program for women who, for a range of reasons, may not have been able to access fitness, health and wellbeing activities, which she believes are the cornerstones to health and healing.

I’ve been working in the community, philanthropic and government sectors for 25 years and I’ve grown to understand there is a community of women that are really struggling. This community of women are needing supports outside of case management and counselling to help reframe their lives and give them the support to park their past for a moment—enough for them to be able to see their potential.

A pilot program for women aged 25 years or older was delivered between November 2018 and August 2019 to a group of 17 participants and 13 mentors and working group members.

Ms Belyea said the program was developed with the support of volunteers including business owners and professionals from the community, education, fitness, and health sectors.

Everything was designed to flow from one week to another, building people’s fitness but also building people’s understanding of self. So, we talked about communications skills, we talked about behavioural styles and we looked at conflict resolution, because we were working as a team.

Ms Belyea said the program provided participants with the opportunity to build their mental, emotional and physical resilience and culminated in a three‑day, 70 kilometre trek from Frankston to Cape Schanck.

What I saw in the women leading up to the trek was the growing connection between everyone in the group—everyone pulling together, the participants, mentors, working group members. It was a real sense of camaraderie.

An evaluation survey conducted by Monash University showed participants found the program empowering, with the participant survey recording enhanced feelings of personal wellbeing, connectedness, self‑esteem, physical self‑perception and resilience.

Many of the participants reported the program was life changing. One participant said:

It’s a tough journey, but being on this track now, I feel like there’s no height I cannot climb.

Ms Belyea said the design of the pilot has served as an example of collective impact, with groups from different sectors coming together to solve a specific social problem.

What I have seen from the get‑go is a project that has mobilised volunteers in the community, women from all walks of life with lots of different skills, and lots of different organisations. All getting involved to support other women and their families. For me, it’s an example of driving social change from the grassroots up, not always the top down.

Source: Women’s Spirit Project [accessed 3 November 2020]; Filling a Gap for Significant Gains: Wellbeing, Connection And Empowerment In The Pilot Program Of the Women’s Spirit Project, 2019 Summary Evaluation Report, August 2019.