International Women’s Day (IWD2023) brings women to the forefront; celebrating and uplifting women and empowering girls to aim high and hold their heads up higher. There are many incredible, strong women within the Interchange Outer East community. They are passionate, values driven, resilient, supportive and strong. They are hilarious, vulnerable and generous.

Few encompass all of this in the way that Belinda James does. From teenage volunteer to general manager. The voice of reason to Fred’s casual pragmatism and ‘why not’ approach to work and life. With her dry humour, unparalleled patience and a knack of not-sweating-the-small-stuff, Belinda has been part of IOE since around 1984. It was around this time that she lied about her age to volunteer! She has been a big part of the lives of so many of our families, including on the dozens of Family Camps she has attended – most recently with her son Max in tow (or out in front!). She often volunteers her time and weekends to tighten relationships and help our newer participants and families feel welcomed. From all this, through to hosting and – potentially most powerfully – being a voice on the other end of the phone or a calming presence at a time of crisis.

‘Belinda is a leader we all aspire to be like, she is empathic and caring while giving clear direction and having a vision for the future. She is humble and considerate and always strives to do her best. Always seeing the potential in an individual or situation, Belinda strives to help other women to reach their goals. She is willing and ready to have a laugh and is always willing to challenge the status quo for the benefit of people with disabilities.’ – Bel, IOE team leader.

Obligatory Pirate Analogy

While Fred may be the pirate captain at the helm, setting sail for adventures unknown and leaving no territory undiscovered; Belinda is the quartermaster keeping the crew safe and fed, the ship free of leaks and the bounty safe to be shared in port.

So synonymous is Belinda’s name with the Interchange Outer East culture that most families, staff and volunteers would not remember a time that she wasn’t involved. You will see her serving food from bain-maries at Family Camp. Or indulging Fred’s outlandish ideas for a laugh at the talent show. She’s head down at all hours deciphering legislation, policies and regulations to ensure our Is are dotted and our Ts are crossed. From popping her head in for a quick, ‘How are you?’ between meetings … to supporting families at times of profound loss and crisis. She even spent around three years and countless hours making sure our community stayed informed, supported and safe throughout a global pandemic (…is there anything she can’t do!?).

‘Belinda is a woman of substance and vision, whose strengths and gifts tick way too many boxes for one humble and rare role model of a woman. Her generosity, integrity, intelligence, endurance, fairness and a total lack of bullsh*t make her an absolute icon actually! She creates a better space where people grow and thrive.’ – Dianne, former IOE board member and staff member.

The theme of IWD2023 is – #EmbraceEquity.

As a strong, resilient and empathetic woman in a position of influence within our IOE community, ‘Belinda works tirelessly to acknowledge the inequities families face daily while working to redress and support their imbalances.’ – Simone, IOE parent.

Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. It’s not about giving everyone the same toolbox and sending them on their way, it’s about learning what each individual or group needs to achieve their goals.

‘Throughout her life Belinda has embraced diversity in both her personal and working lives. Feeling included, being accepted, having the opportunity to participate and achieve on an individual level are important aspects of equity. I believe these values are a core part of Belinda’s beliefs. She treats everyone equally whilst celebrating their differences. Belinda is a woman who truly embodies the theme; #EmbraceEquity.’ – Sandra, IOE parent and former staff member

The Hosting Effect

Not content with nearly 40 years of volunteering on recreation programs and working at every level of the organisation, Belinda has also hosted children and teenagers with significant physical support needs. Her commitment, level of care and unwavering friendship has had a profound impact on the families that she has connected with through hosting.

‘I think she is the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Her kindness, compassion, selflessness & energy. She is deserving of continued respect in her work life as well as wonderful things in her personal life. She is a loyal & caring friend and I feel privileged to have known her for nearly 25 years.’ Lisa – IOE parent

On behalf of the women and girls in the IOE community and the men and boys who love them, we thank Belinda James for being the ultimate role model for strength, empathy and patience. As the mother of three daughters myself, I am energised by the knowledge that there are women like Belinda all over the world, working to create such a deep and lasting impact for us all. To all girls and women – we love you, we are proud of you. We salute you today and every day. Happy International Women’s Day!

-By Faye Lougheed

‘Belinda has always been a quiet achiever. She is always a pleasure to speak to and will always take time to speak to me and see how I am going. Thank you for all you do Belinda.’ – Gordon, IOE participant