10 March 2023

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Supporting the Lives of Women Experiencing Homelessness, One Fundraiser at a Time

Catherine House proudly partners with UniSA’s Communication and Media Clinic Program, a work integrated learning initiative with undergraduate Communication and Media students. Thank you to our UniSA students who provided us with content from our valued stakeholders.

Special thanks to Morgan Menzel for writing the following article.

Jaylee Cooper has devoted 17-years of her life to fundraising for non-for-profit organisations. Working for Catherine House, she has planned several events to raise awareness for women’s homelessness in South Australia, provided emotional support to her clients, and helped generate more than $4 million dollars in donations to support programs which renew the lives of hundreds of women each year—and that’s only in the last 5 years!

Jaylee began her career at Catherine House (founded in 1988), South Australia’s only longer term, recovery-based shelter for women experiencing homelessness, in 2017. With her, she brought an overwhelming desire to help people in their time of need – a sentiment gained from previous work at grief, loss, and children’s charities, as well as her own personal story. 

“In 2017, I had just gone through a marital separation. I was fortunate in the sense that I had support and kept my home, but many of these women are not so lucky,” she explained.  “At Catherine House, our clients are receiving support for homelessness and often trauma caused by financial instability, mental health challenges and family and domestic violence. When I learnt this, I knew I wanted to work there, to use my experience to help support Catherine House and the programs helping turn these women turn their lives around.”

These programs include Crisis Accommodation, Mental Health Recove , Outreach Support, educational and employment support. Since joining Catherine House, Jaylee is now Manager of Philanthropy and Engagement, a position she jokingly describes as “manic.”

Her role involves collaborating to plan fundraisers, developing communications to generate publicity, responding to media, providing support for external-organisations fundraising for Catherine House, and strengthening relationships with donors to help raise necessary funds for their programs—all of which could be happening at one time!

Since 2017, Jaylee has been involved with multiple fundraisers which help fund the Crisis Accommodation Service, the entry-point to Catherine House which provides accommodation, supplies and support for women experiencing homelessness. These fundraisers include live auctions, raffles, and winter and Christmas appeals which help shed-light on client stories – something Catherine House strongly values.

“Storytelling is part of Catherine House’s mission. When a woman first arrives, she is broken. However, over a few months of being with us and our programs, you see them change, and that is because of how hard they are working to change their lives,” she explained. “A woman telling her story… has so much value, but not just for raising money. It is about raising awareness for the very-real issue of homelessness in South Australia, and showing women who might be struggling that Catherine House is here to support them in the same way.”

Jaylee’s fundraising efforts have also seen her organise multiple end-of-year Gala dinners. In 2021 alone, Catherine House’s gala, with the help of Jaylee and her team, raised a record $248,000. “It is both really fun, and overwhelming to see people’s generosity,” Jaylee said. However, the job isn’t without its struggles.

In 2021, Catherine House experienced its biggest challenge—both from an influx of women falling into homelessness as a result of the pandemic, but also a 1.2-million-dollar Government funding cut, which funds their crisis accommodation. As she said, “it was the hardest part of my career. We had six weeks to find a solution, we didn’t know what would happen to the women in our services already experiencing significant trauma, and we had 20 women about to lose jobs who could potentially become our clients. It was very hard.”

However, with over 116,000 people homeless in Australia, 44% of whom are women, Jaylee refuses to give up her fundraising efforts. As she explained, “…without donations and the public’s support, Catherine House wouldn’t be here, to help support women, like we have for 35-years.”

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