Peer leaders leading all the way

The power of Peer Leaders will soon be felt at McAuley House where plans are being finalised for a revitalised Peer Leadership program.

With funding from Gandel Philanthropy and StreetSmart, Case Manager Astrid Ajzensztat and recreation worker Leonie Lawrence are underway with ambitious plans to recruit peer leaders from the many women who have experienced life at, or are currently living at, McAuley House.

According to Leonie, getting the right program in place has taken a while, not least because of the need to heed advice and feedback from women who had been involved in a previous peer program.

Thanks to a grant from Gandel Philanthropy, the McAuley House team and training provider Caraniche have mapped out a plan which enables the program to be sustainable and relevant for all those taking part.

“While the concept of peer leadership is well understood, making sure it works well and is sustainable is another thing altogether,” Leonie said.

“We learned by talking with the women that they loved the idea of being a peer leader but they wanted to be paid for their work,” she added.

“Many former residents have found employment at The Big Issue, and have enjoyed the chance to work and earn,” Leonie said. “Their self-confidence has grown, and they are far happier and have a strong sense of commitment to their work and the magazine.”

Over the past few months, Leonie and Astrid have been investigating ways to reinvigorate the peer leadership program not only to assist women currently living at McAuley House but also women living in the community and wanting to stay connected.

“We explored many different ideas before arriving at the conclusion that the Big Issue model was the correct one for McAuley to emulate,” she said.

Thanks to StreetSmart funding the Peer Leadership program will now have the opportunity to reimburse peer leaders for the time they volunteer to the program.

The cornerstone of the new program is pro bono training and supervision given by Caraniche, who developed the six-week program with McAuley Community Services for Women. The program aims to upskill peer leaders with conflict resolution training, listening and communication training and other skills that prepare them to be supportive community leaders. They will also be supported to facilitate meetings and induct new residents into McAuley House by McAuley House staff.

“Each peer leader’s individual skillset will be taken into account when deciding how they might contribute to the community in this role. If they enjoy running groups they may wish to facilitate the Co-Design Council, where staff and residents meet to discuss the running of McAuley House and to plan events. They may enjoy welcoming new women into the house, so we would offer them training to give inductions to new residents to explain how McAuley House works, which is critical to the smooth running of the service,” Leonie said.

Leonie and the rest of the McAuley House team are looking forward to welcoming the first peer leaders.

“We know that peer programs can be a life changing experience for both the leaders and the participants. Having the chance to learn and earn is motivating not least because it provides a feeling of self-worth,” she said.

About McAuley House

McAuley House provides transitional supported accommodation and outreach support for women who are homeless, or at risk of being homeless. Many of the women face physical and mental illness, and other challenges. The service aims to foster independent living skills so that the women can establish themselves in their own ongoing accommodation.