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Paving Her Own Street

23 February 2015 at 9:40 am
Xavier Smerdon
As the CEO of Berry Street, Sandie de Wolf has spent her life working to create a brighter future for Australian children. de Wolf is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 23 February 2015 at 9:40 am


Paving Her Own Street
23 February 2015 at 9:40 am

As the CEO of Berry Street, Sandie de Wolf has spent her life working to create a brighter future for Australian children. de Wolf is this week’s Changemaker.

Sandy de Wolf was appointed CEO of Berry Street in 1994 when it merged with Sutherland Homes for Children.

Berry Street is now the largest independent child and family welfare organisation in Victoria, providing services across the State, employing over 1000 staff and with an annual turnover of over $80 million.

de Wolf has been recognised for her leadership and commitment by being inducted into the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll, receiving an AM through the Order of Australia and being awarded a Life Membership of The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit Sector?

I started work as a social worker in Broadmeadows in 1974 with the Department of Community (now Human) Services. After seven years, I took some time out with my kids and finished a Masters degree. Since 1989, I have worked in the community sector. While I learnt a lot in the Department, I love the flexibility we have in the community sector.

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

I know how fortunate I was to be born into a stable (most of the time) and loving family with parents who nurtured and believed in me. After finishing Arts (Honours) I was going to be an historian. After some time out, I fell into social work and in retrospect, that’s not at all surprising because my dear mum was Honorary Secretary for Travellers Aid for 35 years.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

Where do I start? In general, it’s working with our great Board and my senior staff to provide the leadership, culture and resources to enable our staff to do this critical work. In particular, it’s working with the Foster Care Association of Victoria on the Save Foster Care campaign, trying to influence politicians in the lead up to the State election and encouraging more people to support us.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

That’s easy! It’s the people – the Board, staff, foster carers, volunteers, my colleagues and supporters. But it’s also when I see every day just how much we achieve together.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

Witnessing how unfair life can be and a lack of resolve to provide the investment needed. Most of the children, young people and adults with whom we work have suffered violence and abuse from people they should have been able to trust. Most also face structural barriers, many live in poverty and can’t access affordable housing. How do I ‘overcome’ it? That’s where our Berry Street Motto of WE NEVER GIVE UP comes in very handy.

Favourite saying?

Go Blues! But we have had a lean few years.

What does a typical day for you involve?

I can honestly say that in the 20 years I have been fortunate enough to be the CEO of Berry Street, there hasn’t been a typical day. That’s what has kept me in the role. Every day I am challenged ethically, emotionally and intellectually and have the opportunity to work with people who continue to inspire me.

I’m always being asked …

How do you find the energy to continue the “good fight”? It’s easy as I love what I do and feel so privileged to have stumbled into this profession and area of work.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

At Berry Street, our Vision is that all children have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future. We know a good childhood really is the foundation of a healthy society. So my dream is that parents get the support and resources they need to give their children the childhood they deserve.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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