Two incredible individuals have been celebrated for their ability to triumph over adversity to give back to their communities at the Lifeline Women of Spirit Awards.
Women of Spirit winner Penelope Twemlow is one of Australia’s leading voices on women in leadership, gender equality, mental health, domestic violence and social innovation.
A survivor of domestic violence and diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depressive Disorder, Penelope has had her fair share of dark days, but she has fought through with determination and for 10 years has used her personal experiences to empower others and assist them in overcoming difficulties in their lives.
Penelope brings sunshine into darkness and reminds people that they may be scared, but are not broken.
A businesswoman, serial entrepreneur and committed community and welfare ambassador, Penelope says she was “very humbled, very honoured and very surprised” to be awarded the title of Women of Spirit award winner for 2021.
“I was standing on the stage with a number of high-performing and highly talented women, all as equally dedicated to their community as I am,” she said.
“I’m humbled to be able to say I’m among this cohort of amazing, incredible women.”
Penelope says she draws on her personal experiences and uses her personal stories to help others and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, domestic violence, PTSD and suicide.
“It did take me a very long time to come to terms with what happened to me and to be able to say I’ve come out the other end,” she said.
“I’ve struggled and I don’t want anyone else to struggle so I use my position as a survivor to be able to inspire others to do the same thing.
“I would bend over backwards to help anyone to take off their mask and be a bigger and better human tomorrow.
“We aren’t broken, we just need fixing, and we just need support to get through the hard times.”
A former Commander and now reservist in the Australian Navy, Penelope also helps veterans transition out of the defence force into civilian life, and works with a number of veteran mental health organisations, including Soldier On and Mates4Mates.
Penelope says it’s important for her to take time for herself to be able to help others, and she enjoys spending time with family, working out at the gym and running marathons.
Annika Reynolds is the Rising Women of Spirit Award winner, and at age 22 has risen above tragedy in their youth with compassion and dignity, emerging as an incredible young leader for a more inclusive and sustainable Australia.
Annika grew up in a homophobic household with a seriously ill mother, and has been diagnosed with complex PTSD.
However, despite their own trauma, Annika founded Greenlaw, a youth-led research institute empowering the next generation of lawyers to tackle the climate crisis.
Annika is also the co-founder of Rainbow Bee-Eaters, a LGBTIQA+ group that creates a safe place for Canberrans to connect and engage in citizen science through recreation activities such as bushwalking and bird watching.
Winning the award was a “moment of reflection” for Annika who says they rarely talk about their own background and what they’ve overcome when trying to help others.
“So often I’m in a leadership position and I’m the one giving support to people so it doesn’t feel appropriate to talk about my own trauma,” said Annika.
“But it did hit me when the award was announced that having that connection should be celebrated.
“It was so inspiring to be standing alongside so many people who have overcome so many awful things in life who are now giving back to the community.
“These awards emphasise that a compassionate approach to advocacy makes such a big difference.”
Guest speaker at the Women of Spirit Awards luncheon, that was held at the National Gallery of Australia on Wednesday, 24 November, was Michelle Mitchell, a Canberra mum of two, author of Girl Got Game, podcast host of Franki & Michelle, CEO of Ms Michelle Mitchell and blogger at Glamor Hippie.
Lifeline Canberra volunteers provide 24/7 support via the local crisis support service on 13 11 14.