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Shelley is empowering girls to break barriers

“My father always believed that girls didn’t need an education. I had no encouragement to work hard or keep studying. When I was 45 years old, I decided I wanted to go to university and get that piece of paper that said I knew what I was talking about,” said Shelley.

After spending years as a volunteer in the education space, Shelley knows that nothing opens more doors than education. And she is committed to providing disadvantaged students with the opportunities to reach their goals. So back in 2012, Shelley and her husband, Don, became Smith Family sponsors. Since then they have sponsored an incredible total of 48 Australian students in need.

Knowing that people care makes these students feel pretty special. They need to know that somebody's there and that they can be whatever they want to be.

“To me it was important that we were giving the kids an education,” said Shelley.

“Education is everything. If you’re educated you can achieve just about anything, as long as you have the determination to get where you want to go.”

Shelley and Don are also particularly passionate about breaking the barriers to education faced by Indigenous students. Studies show that only 65 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people complete Year 12 or its equivalent, compared with 89 percent of non-Indigenous young people.1

So they made a generous donation to establish our Girls at the Centre program in Victoria. Through the program, teenage girls have access to positive educational experiences and role models. This helps them build constructive relationships with each other, their schools, families and community members.

“Indigenous students need to know that it's okay to stand up and get an education. This takes ongoing conversations,” said Shelley.

According to school staff, Girls at the Centre is having a powerful impact. The students taking part demonstrate improved school attendance, greater engagement in learning and better attitudes.

1 Closing the Gap Report 2019.

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