Spending an hour with Jo Westh is like riding a rollercoaster of emotion. You feel inspired yet inadequate, you will laugh and cry, you go from delight to despair and back again several times.
The minute it is over, you will want to do it all over again.
For the next week, you will tell everyone you meet about this remarkable woman.
That is why Jo Westh is the perfect person to be Thynne + Macartney’s first Great Queenslander in our series.
4 Voices is a charity with a mission to connect girls and women seeking change by reducing social and digital isolation, domestic and family violence and homelessness through the power of connection
Jo’s family moved to Queensland from Victoria in the 1990’s.
“Like others who move to Queensland, we were attracted by the climate and the lifestyle. We had three boys and real estate was cheaper in Queensland so we moved here and bought acreage.
It is the Queensland way of life that makes this a great place to live, and the Queensland community spirit. Communities here rally to support people in need, and support is provided without judgment. That’s what makes Queensland a great place to live for me.”
4 Voices was launched as a charity in March 2020 to help people experiencing loneliness or digital isolation.
“I say it was the dumbest time to launch a charity – as a country we had just been through bushfires and floods and we were in the early stages of a global pandemic.
Our 2-week anniversary was the day of the first lockdown here in Queensland and our brand new van (called Aurora) was put into mothballs and volunteers were put on hold. I felt certain the service was needed so like many other organisations we had to reinvent ourselves and adapt to the changing world.
4 Voices started a phone support service for those in need and those suffering from loneliness and isolation during the lockdown.
I had always known the importance of connection for people who were lonely and digitally isolated, that was my reason for starting 4 Voices, but it became even more important during lockdown and the pandemic, particularly for people who were affected by domestic violence, homelessness and who were disconnected because they did not have access to computers or smart phones.
Once lockdown was lifted (April 2020) Aurora and her team of volunteers started to help people who were outside organisations like Centrelink. You will remember the queues and queues of people. 4 Voices was there with a cup of tea to hear the stories of people in the queue and assist them in any social or digital connection needed to access services.”
Jo’s son is one of the founders of Orange Sky Australia, the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness, and Jo had helped build the charity across Australia and New Zealand as CEO and a Board Member for four years. It was this experience that helped her form the idea for 4 Voices.
Even with this experience, Jo tells us she was shocked by the dire need for the services of 4 Voices.
“It is the people who are living on the streets with nothing and the impossible task of finding them somewhere to stay that fills me with despair. We need to get people off the streets where they are preyed upon and provide them with a safer environment if things are going to change. We do what we can – one instance from last winter is when we needed to find accommodation for a young person but there was nothing so we ended up finding a $50 voucher and getting a tent, sleeping bag, mattress mat, and a pair of socks, which was the best we could do in the circumstances. His reaction to just having a pair of socks is enough to get me get up and do this every day.”
“It’s all about being there. A woman in domestic violence often stays with her abuser for many reasons, often due to fear, embarrassment or even shame. Her family and friends often pull away, being frustrated with her – ‘why don’t you just leave?’
I want that woman, and every one like her to know that she is not alone, that there’s a community out there who won’t judge, who will just be there for her.”
“There needs to be less red tape and more practical support. Government services have become so protocol driven that the services are prohibitive to the very people who most need help in our communities.
A really simple example involves victims of domestic abuse. Our volunteers sit with these women while they are talking to a worker on the other end of the phone who assess their eligibility for support. If they get over the first hurdle, they then move to another person and have to retell their story again (and sometimes again), each time having to unnecessarily relive the trauma they have just escaped. At the end of this, they can still be deemed ineligible for support, and we have to start again. I hear all the time Oh we’re not funded for that” “Oh that’s not in our jurisdiction” Try being face to face with a woman in absolute distress and tell her there’s no funding to get her safe. It is simply impossible to walk away.
I encourage everyone to have a real conversation with the people 4 Voices is working with every day. If they can park their judgments, their opinions, their beliefs, they will realise, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
I get so much more out of this than what I put in, and our volunteers tell me the same thing.”
“We have expanded into New South Wales with our first van in Sydney, called Snowflake thanks to the generosity of the Snow Foundation, and also into the northern suburbs of Brisbane with our new van “Hope”.
Our dream is to take our service nationally to provide simple connection services across Australia.
When you see what connection, whether a chat or providing access to the internet or a phone, means to the people we work with, you better understand what it means to be truly isolated and how even the smallest change can have a significant impact on someone’s life”
“Funding is a constant challenge and we are solely reliant on donations. To fit out a van costs $150,000.
Every shift where we are providing support to people costs $150 – the cost of tolls, petrol, tea, coffee, etc.
Even though 4 Voices is providing a critical service, we struggle for funding, we have no employees and nobody is drawing a salary. There is much to do and too few to help us do it!!
We are run exclusively by volunteers, me included, and it will be impossible to scale 4 Voices to a national level as a purely volunteer organisation.”
“Anybody who is 18 years and over can volunteer for a regular shift of three hours per fortnight.
It became more difficult through Covid-19 but phone support took off during that period and we now have over 170 volunteers who are providing emotional and digital support to vulnerable people, either by phone or face to face at our vans. This includes volunteers from various demographics – people who have reached a stage of their life where they have some time to spare and students who may be studying psychology, social work or counselling, or are just really empathetic and can explain how to use technology.”
“There are many ways people can assist. We are a well kept secret and in order to help more people we need to spread our stories – even simple things like liking and sharing our social media pages, jumping on to our website, making a small donation, it will all help.
We are always looking for volunteers – you can register to do this from our website.
Donating refurbished mobile phones and laptops that people are no longer using that we can redistribute to people on the streets or in refuges.
Introductions to schools and companies where we can do presentations and raise awareness, particularly with the younger generation who will be so important in breaking this cycle.
It can be as simple as running a sausage sizzle or other event at schools to raise money and awareness.”
“There are so many people to mention here but I love the people of Logan. A community that is awash with social issues yet I cannot think of another place where I have experienced such a strong sense of community.
I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
When I think about Great Queenslanders, I think about the many ladies who have fled an abusive partner, who live on the streets, who still get up each day and put one foot in front of the other to survive. I think about the 80 year old lady who has full care of her 10 year old great granddaughter, named Hope. Hope’s mum and grandmother have both succumbed to substance use and lost the will to push on.
But this lovely little old lady is determined to break an insidious cycle and give Hope every chance of building a bright future.
It’s for this girl, and all the others in similar situations, that our new van is called Hope.
And as for her great grandmother, well, in my book, she’s the Great Queenslander.”
COVID has given birth to a new pandemic – I call it – the pandemic of disconnection.
Every single one of us has been lonely during the last two and a half years, and we’ve all been forced to do more and more on devices such as a mobile phone or a laptop computer. But think about how much worse the problem becomes if you are homeless or have fled domestic violence or both. Disconnection has reached pandemic proportions.
The world galvanised into action to create a vaccine to protect the world from COVID. Imagine if we harness this power to create a vaccine for the Pandemic of Disconnection. This is what I’d change if I had the power.
But the vaccine for this pandemic is under our noses. It’s connection, providing unlimited boosters of connection.
Just imagine if we had thousands of volunteers who gave just one hour each week to call one disconnected person, we could galvanise the country and eradicate the pandemic of disconnection entirely.”
Jo Westh is the epitome of the person Thynne + Macartney hoped to profile when the idea of finding people across the State who make the State great each and every day.
Jo is the founder of 4 Voices, was the CEO and Board Member of Orange Sky Australia for nearly 4 years, had a corporate career for 25 years, and is mum to one daughter and three sons, including one of the founders of Orange Sky Australia, the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness.
After nearly four years as the CEO for Orange Sky, Jo saw a community need for connection – helping people who were experiencing loneliness or digital isolation and launched 4 Voices on 8 March 2020, just ahead of the first Covid-19 lockdown.
4 Voices is a charity with a mission to connect girls and women seeking change by reducing social and digital isolation, domestic and family violence and homelessness through the power of connection:
Social: offering non-judgemental conversation over a cup of tea, coffee or Milo.
Digital: using technology to help people connect with friends or family and helping to use smartphones and computers.
Employment: helping find meaningful work by preparing resumes, setting up jo alerts, practising interview techniques, finding volunteer work or even a start-up business.
Community: connecting vulnerable people to other service providers who can help them
Jo Westh was a guest speaker at the T+M Connect luncheon held at our offices in Riverside Centre on Thursday 1 December 2022.
Established in 1893, Thynne + Macartney has helped people and businesses to build and grow within Queensland and across Australia, as well as navigate the challenges and issues that sometimes arise. Our firm’s history is intertwined with the development of the State, but we haven’t shouted it from the rooftops. It is just not our style.
However, it is not every day that you get to celebrate 130 years of continuous operation and we thought that was something to shout about, but what to say?
Then we realised there must be other people, businesses and charities out there who get on with what they have to do to make Queensland the great state it is – other Great Queenslanders.