Katie Jayne O’Brien is one of those rare people in this world who instinctively thinks of others first. Whether in her hometown of Braidwood, the indigenous communities of the Northern Territory and Queensland, or the small rural town of Jerilderie where she is currently teaching, being part of the community and making a difference is clearly her calling. As you read about Katie Jayne, you will see it was impossible not to recognise this young woman with the incredible capacity to give as this year’s Audi Foundation – CEF Community Alumni Champion.
Katie Jayne grew up on a cattle property near Braidwood in NSW, and like many farming children her love for and need to help the animals was evident. “I was always rescuing something or taking care of animals whether it was an owl with a broken wing or looking out for the chooks so a fox didn’t get them,” she says.
And even at that young age, the need extended to helping and thinking of other people. She remembers cooking cakes and biscuits and handwriting letters for elderly neighbours because she worried they might be lonely.
I’m passionate about providing the best possible education for students in rural and remote areas. Just because you live in rural or remote areas doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the best teachers possible!”
Katie Jayne studied a Bachelor of Education with the Australian Catholic University. Like many rural students, she recalls working three jobs to stay afloat in her first year away from home, worried how she was going to manage for another three years. It was then she found the Braidwood & District Education Foundation. When she was awarded her grant, she remembers feeling, “a huge relief and I was able to continue to pursue my dream and achieve my goals. It allowed me to realise my potential and made my uni degree affordable.”
When I needed help BDEF was there.
Now I am able to be there for someone else as they commence their studies.
With support from BDEF and dedication, she completed her education in 2012. Receiving her degree made her a sixth-generation teacher with a younger sister also following in this tradition.
Katie Jayne says that it is not just about teaching for the women in her family, but the importance of quality education in regional and remote areas, explaining: “ Seeing the need for education in rural settings, they devoted their teaching careers to education facilities in rural or remote areas.” Since graduating from university, she has combined her sense of community, selflessness and commitment to regional education and has set out on the same path.
The local BDEF has the slogan “reach for the stars” and this is exactly what the support from Mrs Amanda Hall and the BDEF encouraged me to do. Not only did Mrs Hall check in on me, but she also believed in me.
Katie Jayne left the urban conveniences of Canberra and accepted a job in the remote Northern Territory Ltyentye Apurta community on Arrernte Country, and says this experience was most humbling and rewarding.
She was a teacher and wellbeing coordinator at the school, helping students and families to deal with social issues, language barriers and cultural issues.
She also says one of her greatest achievements was re-establishing the Horse Program as an accredited TAFE course for disengaged youth in the Northern Territory. “The program allows boys and girls to care for and become skilled on a horse and allowing for possible job opportunities in the future whilst reengaging the youth with education,” she explains.
What colleagues don’t realise is there is a real sense of community and respect when you come to teach in small towns to help these little minds.
A very humbling and rewarding experience.
She was accepted and respected, invited to visit special sites and participate in sacred ceremonies not only because of the positive impact she had, but because of her respect and willingness to understand the local culture, another quality Katie Jayne possesses that no doubt enables her to connect with people and community in such a special and unique way.
Returning to Braidwood during 2020 and 2021 at the height of the COVID pandemic, Katie Jayne not only returned to her roots, but to those displays of thoughtfulness that first indicated the extraordinary person she would become. Once again, she was baking and writing letters for the most vulnerable and effected people.
As she was connecting with her first community during this difficult time, Katie Jayne was acutely aware of the impact isolation was having on the people she had come to care for in the Northern Territory. And we are sure without a second thought, found time to send care packages and newsletters that were shared throughout her new community, lifting spirits at a time when it was needed most.
I can never see a need and not doing something about it whether it be helping someone with a meal, taking the time to have a chat or organising hampers for community members at Christmas.
In Katie Jayne’s own words, community is her passion. Wherever she is, she becomes involved. And she isn’t just looking to make a difference. Even more special, she is genuinely looking to connect, to be part of the fabric of the town. Whether it is cheering at the local footy, playing sports or making new friends, she says “there is always something to do.”
At the moment, she is in the early stages of organising a good old country ball for farmers and families in the Braidwood region to reconnect and support each other, and to celebrate the start of the next chapter after the devastation and disruption of COVID-19.
We all have kindness in our hearts, and the best of thoughts and intentions. But it is action that makes a champion. And action is what Katie Jayne O’Brien takes every day to make a difference; instinctively and without hesitation.
We are extremely proud to have her as part of the CEF family, and we should all be so lucky to have a ‘Katie Jayne’ as a champion in our communities.