Michelle Gardiner, CREATE’s Senior Community Facilitator in the Victorian team has recently celebrated her five year anniversary. We couldn’t be happier that Michelle is a part of the CREATE Crew, playing an instrumental role in so many projects and changes for children and young people in out-of-home care in Victoria. On behalf of CREATE and the children and young people we serve, we would like to extend a warm thank you to Michelle for all her dedication and hard work. Michelle shares her highlights throughout her CREATE journey.
How did it all start for you at CREATE?
About nine years ago, I first welcomed Cath, our long standing VIC State Coordinator, to a speaking gig at my old agency. I remember feeling intimidated by her. She asked me what I “do”, and then said “do you love it?” I had no idea that I would end up working alongside her! Six years ago, CREATE came to present again at my agency and I looked at the staff member standing with the Young Consultant and said to myself “I want her job.” A few months later, I left my role at the agency and went travelling. Two weeks before coming home I Googled jobs in Melbourne and found the Community Facilitator role advertised. With only a day or two to apply for it, I sent my application off from New Orleans, and returned to Melbourne in time for my interview. I’m lucky that Cath was looking for me at the exact time that I was ready for the role.
What has been your best memory?
I have so many incredible memories! I really can’t narrow it down to one. From CREATE being the thing that moved me to the city and transformed my own life, to the growth, learning and opportunities that we have. I feel blessed to have worked on some amazing projects, to have grown beyond what I thought was possible and to have had a role in creating real social change in the Child Protection space. It is one of few roles where you can face paint with kids in the morning and meet Ministers in the afternoon. More specifically, being involved in setting up the Platform and Hour of Power and watching how it all unfolds on the day has been remarkable. As well as seeing the impact that it has made across the sector. Two years ago, we received the Robin Clark Memorial Award for our work in influencing the Child Protection system in Victoria. In 2017, I also got to do my Debutante Ball with one of my Youth Facilitators. That was lots of fun because I also had never done my Debutante before!
I really have been surrounded by the most incredible group of people to work with, both young people and my team mates alike. To watch our young people grow into resilient, articulate, compassionate and active social advocates and role models is the best reward out there. As is watching the impact and difference that this makes across their lives. I have always loved sitting with a young person and helping them to write their story and to prepare to share it for the first time. There’s something magical that happens for them in that process.
It really is a pleasure to watch the CREATE crew grow up, cheer each other on, help one another step up, and encourage one another on the more challenging days. Honestly, there are lots of big moments at CREATE, and there are also the everyday moments which account for just as much, such as good chats about how we can more effectively create social change, and just as many silly memories with our team which I also hold dearly.
Do you think CREATE has changed over the last five years? If so, how?
This one feels a little trickier to answer. I have seen a big change in the last year. Partly because I am now a Senior Community Facilitator, so I have become much more aware of how CREATE works Nationally. I have also become Team Leader of the Youth Participation Model, so I am exposed to a very different side of the sector, which is solely based around the reforms. Our team in Victoria has grown hugely during this time, from four staff to a maximum of 15 last year! That brings on all kinds of change and at times, growing pains, however I feel like we are navigating it fairly well!
What’s been the most challenging part of your role?
In the early days, I found it challenging moving from case work roles to having a lot more creative space in how I work, which has been encouraged at CREATE. Now, I wouldn’t want to work any other way. I feel like in any project where you are really challenging the system to think and see things differently, there is a little point where I have thought “can we really shift this?” At those times, it’s most important to remember why we are doing what we do and it’s often the young people that we work with who encourage and remind me to push through it. Because if we don’t see it as possible, how will they?
What’s a great piece of advice you can give young people starting at clubCREATE?
Get into it! Really, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It truly is up to you how involved you want to be! The connections and opportunities that you have will shift your perspective of what is possible for both yourself, and others who have had similar experiences to you. There is so much power in your story and what you have come through. CREATE will give you an avenue to use this to make a real difference in the Child Protection space, for yourself in your own life, as well as for others in care. You are not alone in your experiences and CREATE can show you how powerful and entirely possible speaking up can be. Plus, we have lots of fun and laughs as well.
Interested in joining the CREATE Crew? Check out our current vacancies page for available jobs around Australia.