Worthy citizens

March 23, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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Four Sydney women have been acknowledged by two local municipalities for services to their communities.

Isabelle Shapiro and Mayor Tony

Isabelle Shapiro and Mayor Toni Zeltzer

Isabelle Shapiro, a passionate community safety advocate and former Mayor of Woollahra in 2010, is the 2016 Woollahra Municipality Citizen of the Year.

The Woollahra Citizenship Awards aim to celebrate the individuals and groups who demonstrate excellent citizenship and support the Woollahra and broader community.

Isabelle Shapiro was awarded Citizen of the Year for her dedication to making the Woollahra community stronger and happier. Passionate about suicide prevention and mental health awareness, Isabelle played an instrumental role in the self-harm minimisation at Gap Park in 2011. She has been a member of the Woollahra Council Community Safety Committee, and is currently on the Eastern Suburbs Suicide Prevention Network.

Isabelle, herself a breast cancer survivor, is a strong advocate for two leading breast cancer organisations and is committed to the broad awareness campaign which improves the outcomes for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

In the later years of her term at Woollahra Council she helped to establish the Woollahra Public Art Trust, which has led to having the works of significant Australian and international sculptors displayed in Woollahra’s public domain and enjoyed by so many locals and visitors.

Mayor of Woollahra, Councillor Toni Zeltzer said she was honoured to bestow the award upon such a worthy recipient.

“Isabelle’s commitment to community safety and mental health awareness has helped build a stronger, more resilient community and has helped save lives.

“For her community, Isabelle has gone above and beyond, both as a councillor and as a community member, serving on numerous committees and advocating for several charity and research groups,” the Mayor added.

Leichhardt Council have added local resident Judy Singer to the 2016 International Women’s Day Honour Roll.

A council citation states that: “Judy has worked extensively in voluntary and advocacy roles in the areas of tenants’ rights and disability inclusion and has given her own time and energy consistently over many years, to ensure that some of our society’s most marginalised people have a voice.

Councillor Linda Kelly presents the award to Judy Singer

Councillor Linda Kelly presents the award to Judy Singer

They also acknowledged that she has taken strong action with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, including, founding a social club for teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome demonstrating an incredible capacity for activism and passion for social justice.

As a social housing tenant, Judy Singer became involved in activism on behalf of tenants issues from 2005 on.  She was

  • a voice for the tenants of the Inner West on Housing NSW’s Divisional Tenant Forum for approximately 6 years, scrutinising policies affecting tenants, and giving feedback on their impact
  • appointed to Social Housing Tenants Advisory Committee as a delegate for Sydney, where she continued this role at a statewide level for 2 terms
  • elected a director of the peak body for low-income housing, Shelter NSW, for the maximum three terms
  • worked for two years  on the Affordable Housing Action Team of the Sydney Alliance, setting up the Alliance’s Housing Campaign
  • recognised by the National Library of Australia for her satirical blog, Diary of a Desperate Houso, which is now archived in perpetuity for being “a significant contribution to Australia’s documentary heritage”

Having a family history of Asperger’s syndrome, Judy Singer is known internationally as a pioneer of the world-wide autistic self-advocacy movement through her Honours thesis, book chapters, and academic papers. She is credited with prefiguring the idea of creating a “neurodiversity movement” which was cited in Wired magazine’s 20th anniversary issue as one of the world-changing ideas of the new millennium.  Described thus “Singer’s subversive meme has become the rallying cry of the first new civil rights movement to take off in the 21st century”.

She served for several years as Secretary of the Inner West Autism and Asperger Support Group.  Seeing a need for a social club for teenagers with Aspergers Syndrome she cofounded Asteen which, as the only organisation filling this need, attracted people from all over Sydney and the Blue Mountains. With about  a hundred member families, the organisation affiliated with the Autism Association, and Judy was involved in managing the changes to the organisation, the terms of reference, and in working with the community to implement the changes

Identifying as mildly Aspergers, Judy prefers to work in the background with her IT and writing skills, and since the 1990s has used social media as a tool for community development. She has created websites, blog sites and listservs for autistic support and advocacy groups, both locally and internationally. In the Leichhardt Municipality, she has worked with the Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre to create its blog-based website Social Housing Stories, moderates the listserv of Leichhardt based Jewish community group, the Inner West Chavurah, and taught senior classes on smartphones and tablets at the Hannaford Centre. She was also Secretary of Balmain Public School P&C Association.

She has written opinion pieces for the SMH, the Australia, New Matilda, J-Wire, and the Drum on the topics of social housing, poverty, and autism.

With a family history of Asperger’s, Judy has struggled all her life with a disability that had no name until she was in her 40s. She was a child carer for her mother, and then for her own daughter at a time when mothers were blamed for their autistic children’s anomalous behaviour. At the same time she struggled with Aspergers traits herself including bullying at school and even as an undergraduate student. As a child refugee whose family left Eastern Europe with nothing but two shopping bags full of photos, with a mother who was one of the few survivors of Auschwitz, a father who couldn’t cope, and no other family support, Judy carried a heavy burden and has nevertheless achieved all the above despite a lifetime’s struggle with depression and anxiety. She is driven by a deep concern for social justice as a result of her heritage.

Lesley Seebold and Sylvia Freedman

Lesley and Sylvia Freedman

Leichhardt Council also honoured mother and daughter team Lesley Seebold Freedman and Sylvia Freedman for their efforts in establishing a Facebook page focusing on endometriosis, an excruciating condition which attacks  women.

The award was to acknowledge their success in campaigning for women with Endometriosis.  1 in 10  women have this debilitating  disease which causes extremely painful periods, fatigue, digestive disorders, bowel and bladder problems and often infertility and chronic pelvic pain if it’s not diagnosed and treated early.   Lesley and Syl successfully petitioned Bayer to bring Visanne into Australia, a very useful drug for treating Endo.

Last year they held the first Conference on Endometriosis for women and their families as well as Health Professionals at Sydney University. Lesley and her documentary film producer husband Rod Freedman recorded it and produced a DVD.  Shared Perspectives features 13 respected specialists and is a unique video resource educating patients and practitioners about current research and treatment of Endometriosis.   It’s available from their website – EndoActive.org.au .  Their Facebook page: EndoActive Australia & NZ has over 7,600 women following it.   Their posts can reach over thirty thousand people which they recognise as the overwhelming need for information about Endo in the community.  They were honoured by Leichhardt Council for their contribution to social justice and women’s health.

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