Leading change with a dash of kindness

15 Mar, 2019 04:00 AM
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Sallie Jones and son Max. Sallie and dairy farmer Steve Ronalds founded Gippsland Jersey and have built kindness and fairness into their business model.
this little bit of kindness can be a circuit-breaker for where they are at with their mental health
Sallie Jones and son Max. Sallie and dairy farmer Steve Ronalds founded Gippsland Jersey and have built kindness and fairness into their business model.

In life's big and unassuming moments, Sallie Jones thrives on creating positive change with kindness.

From fostering community pride to empowering rural women and inspiring dairy farmers to nurture their mental health, Ms Jones's generosity of spirit anchors her personal life and business.

Home-schooled until Year 6, the former Gippsland Grammar school captain has long had a knack for making good things happen - and inspiring a band of helpers.

As a mother-of-three and businesswoman, Ms Jones's people-centric and collaborative nature brings her "outside of the box ideas" to fruition to enhance her dairy community.

"I think I just naturally like joining the dots and putting things together," Ms Jones said. "I like to add value wherever I can to make this world a better place. You can't just sit around waiting for a good community to happen, you have to take a role."

For Ms Jones, this means being a "yes" person, sharing contacts with Warragul, Vic, locals while shopping; leading committees on unconventional initiatives; and finding and inspiring ways to overcome life's challenges.

After the devasting suicide of her father during the 2016 milk crisis, Ms Jones and dairy farmer Steve Ronalds founded Gippsland Jersey. Sharing the same values, they built kindness and fairness into their business model.

Their small milk brand offers district farmers fair milk prices and shines a light on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of farmers.

Tackling the stigma of suicide took courage and exposing vulnerabilities: Ms Jones shared the story of her father Michael Bowen, a Lakes Entrance dairy farmer and ice-cream businessman. In doing so, other dairy farmers also published their mental health journeys on a calendar aimed at suicide prevention.

Distributed to 1400 Gippsland dairy farms, the calendar promotes conversation about mental health and lists support services.

"We set aside one cent a litre for random acts of kindness," Ms Jones said of another not-for-profit initiative.

"It might be a voucher for dinner or for a hair appointment, a float therapy session, ride on a camel with the kids at the beach, or a counselling session.

"It's to say to those people that someone cares about you: this little bit of kindness can be a circuit-breaker for where they are at with their mental health and wellbeing."

Whether random or thoughtfully planned gestures or a courageous response, Ms Jones role-models "seeking to understand and responding with kindness" as a catalyst to positive change.

This trait - and bravery - were shown on a morning jog, when she encountered a scene of domestic violence on a residential street.

Choosing "to come in with kindness to disarm the situation", Ms Jones gently tried to engage the angry man into a reasoned conversation; after police arrived, she offered a safe haven and friendship to the young mum who knew no one in the community.

"I said, 'You have a choice. I will take you and your daughter back to my home right now; and I will network you into creating a new life'."

While her offer was not accepted, Ms Jones hoped the gesture showed people cared, and when the young woman was ready, help was available.

Ms Jones life was "already at capacity" when she applied for the six-month Gippsland Community Leadership Program (GCLP), sponsored by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation.

Busy parenting two primary schoolers and a pre-schooler with dairy farmer husband Pete, she was on numerous committees; supporting her mother as a calming influence for her autistic brother; and establishing Gippsland Jersey.

But rallying "a village of helpers" and using technology to multi-task, she joined the 2017 cohort. "It was an incredible opportunity to gain an enhanced understanding of the history, opportunities and challenges facing the Gippsland region," Ms Jones said.

She learnt to understand and enhance her leadership style of influencing employees and community volunteers to step up to the plate, whatever their skills.

Her syndicate project #Proud

Gippslandian, helped raise the region's profile and residents' pride despite local challenges, such as unfair milk pricing, closure of sawmills and the Hazelwood power station. Ms Jones's syndicate created media opportunities to share a new, positive perspective of the region.

"We thought, 'Why should it only be the not-so-great stories that get the media limelight? It's time to make Gippslandians proud of who they are, and where they are from," she said.

Ms Jones has a lot more energy to give her dairy region and broader community.

Whether with Women in Gippsland (a collaborative of women who "make big and little things happen"), as Warragul Farmers' Market manager, school council member or creating educational paddock-to-plate videos - she is sure to inspire others to enrich their community.D

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