Western Bulldogs Community Foundation recently celebrated 518 graduates of the Daughters of the West program across 17 diverse ceremonies that were united by a common highlight – the participants’ speeches.

Every ceremony featured two speeches by participants, each of which spoke poignantly about all they had gained from their time with the program.

Donna Maloney, a first-year participant of Daughters of the West, took the podium in front of the Sunbury cohort to share her speech. Below is a transcript of her speech.

“The Daughters of the West program is described as a pathway to learn about health, get support to be more active and to meet new people.

This is such an understatement for what the program actually delivers to women. 

Over the last 10 weeks, I have seen firsthand that it is fundamentally about the strength of the human spirit when it feels nurtured, valued and connected.

For this group, that strength came in the shape of an incredibly open, kind and curious collection of women who took the time to listen, be vulnerable and heard.

To nurture themselves individually and to show respect and support for each other.

To break the common, often expected and self-imposed cycle of caring for everyone else as a priority, in order to come for a couple of hours a week to simply sit still, to really be present and unapologetically care for themselves.

There is no doubt that some of us did come here to learn and practice healthier habits. Some came simply for some peace and quiet. Others came to seek respite from the everyday home grind, from boredom, from trauma or from the utter and palpable feelings of loneliness.

And the one thing that this program provided which addressed all of those needs, and the healing that followed, was human connection.

Connection. After the last few years of the pandemic and the saturation of skyrocketing digital interactions, our connection to each other has never been so fragile, or needed. Through this program, under the care and guidance of professionals and volunteers, we gained the confidence and freedom to establish and build our connection to each other through our own little sanctuary of trust, curiosity, non-judgement, and self-expression.

We knew that whatever we said, our thoughts and opinions would be deeply listened to and carefully cradled in kindness and respect.

Within this sanctuary, we listened, we shared our voices and we laughed uncontrollably, giving each other the simple but momentous gift of human kindness.

For me, this was a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of. And I now know when I am too hard on myself (which happens often) and doubt my abilities as a worker, partner, mother, or friend, that I have this experience of genuine human connection to reflect on and draw strength from.

I will remember this group of women who, in a small but very important way, will be connected to each other always.

I will remember the care, the respect, the shenanigans, and the laughter.

Mostly, I will remember that I am never truly alone. That there are other amazing women out there feeling just like me. Women I can reach out to and lean on to help restore my strength, confidence, and belief in myself. Connection. We all need it. And this program delivered it in spades.

As a result, there are three things I now know with absolute certainty:

That I am incredibly grateful to feel more at peace and happier within myself, having been a part of this program.

That if I ever felt alone, I could call anyone in this room, and they would be there for me. Even if they didn’t remember my name, all I would have to say was that I was a Daughter of the West and our connection would instantly be reformed.

And that as I stand here, I can categorically say to everyone in this room that I will never shoo those bloody chickens ever again!

So thank you to the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, WorkSafe Victoria, CoHealth and Sunbury council for bringing this program to life and bringing us together to connect. Thank you to the program managers and volunteers for being so generous with your time and dedication to our health and success. And a very special thank you to all of you amazing women for opening your hearts to me and each other and making this experience an incredibly special one for us all.”

Expressions of Interest are now open for the 2024 Daughters of the West program.