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Everyone Needs a Chance

07 March 2011

In July we launched the Women's Subscription Enterprise, and one of the many things I did that month was sit in on a media interview with one of my colleagues Kirstie Papanikalaou.

I have worked very closely with Kirstie in my time at The Big Issue, and I have always found her to be a source of incredible inspiration, but it was during this interview that I learned just how Kirstie got to be where she is today

Kirstie has been at The Big Issue since it began in 1996, spending the past 14 years working as an integral member of our Vendor Support team. Kirstie is a mum, a wife, a proud owner of three cats and two rabbits (one whom I believe weighs 12 kilos and swings on a hammock), a mortgage holder and a daughter in law to a big, loving, Greek family. But life wasn't always like that for Kirstie.

Kirstie's mum was a heroin addict and as a baby Kirstie was removed from her family home and became a Ward of the State. After spending the majority of her childhood in and out of foster homes she resorted to sleeping on the streets as a teenager.

Kirstie faced a serious lack of opportunity in her young life and found herself written off by the wider community, particularly when it came to seeking employment.

However, at the age of 16 Kirstie was offered a traineeship for homeless youth with The Body Shop. This 'chance' she was given, allowed her to completely turn her life around. ...

\"I was given the opportunity to be part of something; to earn an income and given the chance to study. For the first time, I was given hope. I had the opportunity to learn in a safe and non-judgmental environment where I was treated exactly the same as any other staff member, my opinions where sought after, which was a great confidence boost for me,\" Kirstie explains.

\"I was given the opportunity to mix with the type of people I had never really associated with before, which helped mould myself into the kind of person I wanted to be.

\"The Body Shop also taught me basic life skills like cooking and managing finances...things which a lot of people take for granted but are essential for living a normal and stable life.

\"I believe that all you need to change your life is just one person who believes in you. One person, one bit of encouragement, one chance, is all it takes. The Body Shop was my one chance.\"

After listening to Kirstie's story on this particular day, it got me thinking...although Kirstie and my backgrounds were incredibly different, and I certainly haven't had to face the challenges she has, someone had once given me a chance as well, and it turned my life around...

In my twenties I was given an opportunity to join a wonderful children's charity, The Alannah and Madeline Foundation. Judith Slocombe, their incredibly inspirational and accomplished CEO offered me a chance to join the organisation, when it was safe to say my relevant experience was somewhat limited. Judith knew that but she placed her trust in me nonetheless. I went on to head a number of key projects for the Foundation, and my career in the NFP was well and truly borne.

I went from working in an industry I felt truly uninspired by and completing a masters degree that less than thrilled me, to loving going to work everyday. I have grown from role to role, worked for a number of amazing organisations along the way, and have achieved some incredible things for child victims of violence, children with life threatening illnesses, burns victims and now for homeless women. And all because I was given a chance.

And now here I am at The Big Issue, where we believe that sometimes all it takes to turn your life around is for one person to give you a chance. With a proud 14 year history of giving disadvantaged Australians a 'chance' this month we are asking Australians to share with us their stories and help inspire the homeless and disadvantaged women that are working on the Women's Subscription Enterprise.

From October 17-24, to coincide with Anti-Poverty Week, we will run our first ever social media campaign and I encourage you all to share with us when somebody has given you a chance. Maybe you have been given a chance at work, or by a friend or business associate, or perhaps from somebody you had never met before. Tell us about it for our 'Everyone Needs A Chance' campaign.

Join the WSE Diary at www.thebigissue.org.au/womens to get daily updates throughout the campaign and register your responses by becoming a fan of our Facebook page www.facebook.com/TheWSE or follow us on Twitter www.twitter.com/thebigissue

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