Cessnock Leagues Club hosts International Women's Day dinner, supporting Got Your Back Sista

INSPIRATIONAL: Crystal Duncan, Belinda Goodwin, Lotta Jackson, Melissa Histon, Tara Naysmith and Ellena Morris were the guest speakers at Cessnock Leagues Club's International Women's Day charity dinner. Picture: Krystal Sellars
INSPIRATIONAL: Crystal Duncan, Belinda Goodwin, Lotta Jackson, Melissa Histon, Tara Naysmith and Ellena Morris were the guest speakers at Cessnock Leagues Club's International Women's Day charity dinner. Picture: Krystal Sellars

Cessnock Leagues Club's inaugural International Women's Day charity dinner was a great success, with about 100 people in attendance on Thursday night.

Six women from varying walks of life shared their stories of determination, courage and resilience, reflecting on this year's theme Each for Equal.

Got Your Back Sista founder and CEO Melissa Histon said it was great to see events like International Women's Day becoming bigger and better.

Ms Histon founded the charity in 2016 to help women escaping domestic violence to regain their independence.

It started out providing household items for women, and now runs self-defence and healthy relationships workshops, office skills courses and a drop-in support group among other programs.

"I see first-hand the effects gender inequality has on women in our community," Ms Histon said.

"That's why it's so important that International Women's Day gets bigger every year, and that we challenge gender stereotypes and call out derogatory or controlling behaviour.

"And we need to include our men in this - it's about equality, we can't do it without men being part of the conversation.

"We can all do it together, if we choose."

Legendary Cessnock swimming teacher and coach Ellena Morris and country singer-songwriter Tara Naysmith gave humble, heart-warming interviews with MC Anthony Burke about their respective careers and volunteer work.

Ms Morris has taught hundreds, if not thousands of local children to swim, and has travelled the world as a volunteer coach with Special Olympics (athletes with an intellectual disability).

Ms Naysmith has been singing since she was 12 years old, giving her time as a performer and MC at countless community events over the years.

Miruma staff Crystal Duncan and Belinda Goodwin gave an insight into Cessnock Correctional Centre's residential diversionary program for female offenders with mental health and drug and alcohol abuse issues.

Ms Goodwin said the women who attend Miruma have often experienced a lifetime of trauma, and the program helps them to feel "supported, loved and cared for".

Ms Duncan said the program helps these women to become responsible and accountable, teaching them life skills and helping them to walk amongst the community again.

The final guest speaker was Cessnock City Council general manager Lotta Jackson, who spoke of her 20-year career in local government.

Ms Jackson started as an early childhood officer at South Sydney Council, went on to complete four university degrees, and was the general manager of Norfolk Island Regional Council for three years before arriving in Cessnock late last year.

As one of just 12 female general managers out of 123 NSW councils, Ms Jackson said she tries not to think of the "glass ceiling", saying hard work, study, determination and self-belief have helped her get to where she is today.

The night also featured entertainment by Reese Hamilton (a last-minute replacement for Trinity Woodhouse, who had a throat infection); dancers from Kirsty Gunther Academy of Dance, and concluded on a lighter note with a set by comedian Emma Zammit, sharing some hilarious tales of motherhood.

The event raised $3700 for Got Your Back Sista, and several personal care items were collected for Jodie's Place and Carrie's Place (with donations still being accepted at the club).

Cessnock Leagues Club marketing manager Natalie Kelly said she was really pleased with how the event turned out.

"I'm very proud, it was a great night - a night of inspiration, and it opened up peoples' eyes to what's around them," she said.

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