“You might surprise yourself”: mum of four becomes VICSES leader

“You might surprise yourself”: mum of four becomes VICSES leader

07/03/2023, 12:00 PM

VICSES Kilmore Unit Deputy Controller, Cheryl Abela, accompanies members from her unit at Midsumma Pride

With “innovation for gender equity” being the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, we are pleased to introduce you to Cheryl.

Cheryl came to the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) just four years ago, and ever since has helped to triple the volunteer workforce at her unit.

“I worked in an office, so I wanted to go into something outside of my world that got me outdoors and doing something new and different,” says Cheryl. “VICSES volunteers are ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and I wanted to be a part of that, but I thought - maybe - it was too late for me,” she continues. "After all, I had my work and my kids.”

After ending thirty years of marriage, raising a family, and working in administration, Cheryl is now a crew leader, divisional commander, and Deputy Controller for Members at the VICSES Kilmore Unit.

“It’s never too late to challenge yourself, and you might be pleasantly surprised,” says Cheryl.

Going on to receive accreditation for a wide range of rescue techniques, Cheryl worked throughout the storm and flood event of last year across a wide variety of roles including; leading an Incident Control Point, triaging requests for assistance, and managing a multi-agency response in her area.

“When you’re growing up, there’s a mindset of girl’s jobs and boy’s jobs,” says Cheryl. “I couldn’t go camping with my dad, because I’m a girl, and I didn’t feel I could be true to myself until much later in life,” she continues. “There are always obstacles, but your mindset, and SES, can help you to overcome those.”

As Deputy Controller for Members, Cheryl welcomes new recruits as they begin their training pathway at VICSES. She also helps existing unit members who want to add to their skills.

“Not everyone has weekends available, says Cheryl, “they have kids, work or carer commitments, so I try to make the process simpler.”

To help her unit, Cheryl undertook a year of training to become qualified as a VICSES trainer and assessor. “This means that the unit can offer initial crew training to new recruits. Not everyone can make it to a weekend away at a regional headquarters,” says Cheryl.  “Now they can undertake their training locally.”

“Being a VICSES volunteer has to be a realistic option to the widest range of people,” says Cheryl. “With this training initiative, the whole community has a chance to be represented in our ranks.”

Cheryl’s initiative has contributed to the expansion of the unit membership from around a dozen volunteers to more than forty, in just two years.

VICSES Kilmore Unit responds to an average of 415 requests for assistance every year, and is recruiting new members.

If you would like to learn more about joining Cheryl and becoming a VICSES volunteer, visit: ses.vic.gov.au/join-us.

To read other volunteer profiles for International Women's Day, click here.