Interview with Zephyr Education founders
How did Zephyr start?
Zephyr was established in April 2013 by two Brisbane couples after its President, Isabella Bevan, read a newspaper article about the plight of children who have to change schools because of domestic violence. These children frequently arrive at their new schools without the right uniform and without the same textbooks, stationery and other school essentials as their new classmates.
What attracted you to this particular cause?
These children comprise one of the most vulnerable groups in the community. Their lives and education have been disrupted by domestic violence and, if they don’t have the correct uniform, they have a higher risk of being bullied because they stand out. Also, if they don’t have the same books and other school essentials as the other children, they have a high risk of falling behind in their education at a critical time in their young lives.
Our inquiries showed that no government agency or not-for-profit was addressing this issue.
What are Zephyr’s functions and what do they involve?
Zephyr Education Inc sole purpose is to help these children get back to school as quickly as possible by supplying:
• school uniforms and shoes
• textbooks and stationery specific to the year and school they will be attending
• laptops and iPads
• school bags, lunch boxes, water bottles, headphones, and all other school items.
Zephyr also supplies swimming gear and pays resource levies (e.g. for eLearning), camp fees and sports fees to make sure the children don’t miss out on these important activities.
What motivates you to stay involved? What motivates Zephyr?
Everyone who works for Zephyr, including its Management Committee, is an unpaid volunteer committed to supporting Zephyr’s mission. All of them believe in the critical role education can play in changing lives and breaking cycles of violence and disadvantage.
Although we don’t meet the families we help, we frequently receive emails from DV case workers and shelter managers confirming the impact of work. We share some of these with our volunteers.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that Zephyr does?
Zephyr’s most important work is its core business of supplying these children with everything they need to get back to school.
In doing so, we also remove a major burden from the children’s mothers who are inevitably dealing with a range of financial and emotional issues. Importantly, if the children make a successful transition to their new school, their mother is less likely to return to an abusive partner.
Our work also reduces the workload of busy staff at DV shelters. As mentioned, these organisations are not funded to provide the educational support that Zephyr provides.
What contribution or achievement are you most proud of?
We have managed to expand our operations from supporting the school-related needs of children in two Brisbane DV shelters in 2013 to 106 Queensland DV shelters and family support organisations in 2021. We also currently support all 7 DV shelters operating in Tasmania and 16 shelters in WA.
We are proud of the fact that, despite our rapid growth, we have never had to refuse a request through lack of funds.
What are your future plans for Zephyr?
We will continue to expand our operations by registering and supporting new shelters and family support organisations in the States in which we currently operate.
We would like to meet like-minded people in other States and Territories to carry out similar work in those jurisdictions. We would be happy to share the Zephyr model and our knowledge and experiences with them.
How do donations made to Zephyr impact the charity?
Zephyr receives no government funding and relies entirely on donations and community grants to fund its work. Because we are all volunteers and Zephyr operates rent-free from private premises, Zephyr’s administration costs are negligible and almost every dollar donated to Zephyr is spent on school-related items for the children.
Do you have a story from Zephyr that has really moved you?
As mentioned, we frequently receive emails from DV case workers and shelter managers recounting the positive effect our support has had on individual children. Here is an example:
"I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank you and your amazing volunteers at Zephyr Education for your continued support to our clients and more importantly to their children. To see the smiles on the faces of the children when they receive their school packs warms my heart and gives me hope that these children (living in crisis accommodation) feel valued. Having school packs and new uniforms is taken for granted by so many of us who can afford to provide these basic yet valuable items to our own children to enable them to “fit in” not stand out. I take pride and joy in watching our clients’ children walk into the school yard with their heads held high looking sharp.
I often wonder what alternative options our families would have if it was not for Zephyr Education as there is very limited support available. As a service that works with the most vulnerable families, we are extremely grateful to be in a position where we can advocate (not have to beg) on behalf of our clients.
Zephyr provided the child with new shoes, uniforms and books. Her mother reported that for the first time her daughter could blend in with everybody else.
The young person felt confident starting senior school ready with all his necessary school items. When he put on his formal uniform he was smiling which he hadn’t done for some time.
For (the child) to start school with brand new uniforms like the majority of the other kids in her class, was such a huge moment. Being able to pick them out herself and try them on meant that she felt comfortable going to the school and knowing that she was just like all the other kids starting this year. She has taken so much pride in her uniforms, hanging them up and keeping them tidy, she has even learnt a new word, skort, which she thinks is hilarious. She has been given an opportunity to have something new when previously all she has ever been given is second-hand clothes that are too big or too small, and never comfortable. Please pass on a huge thankyou to Zephyr because what they do makes such a big difference to children and their sense of confidence."
Are there any other organisations or causes you support?
All of the DV shelters and family support organisations Zephyr supports are run by NFPs. Each of them has registered with Zephyr for assistance. Although some of them are run by large NFPs, they are not funded to provide the support Zephyr provides.
Because Zephyr’s focus is on the educational needs of families impacted by domestic violence, Zephyr also supports the educational needs of young adults in refuge as well as mothers seeking to further their education through Tafe courses or otherwise
What has Zephyr taught you?
All of Zephyr’s four founders are still actively involved in its activities. Zephyr has taught us that, with the right will, ordinary members of the community can take direct action to meet the critical needs of a vulnerable group in our society that were being overlooked by government and non-government organisations.
What do you think is Zephyr’s message to the rest of the world?
Zephyr’s message is that the key to changing the lives of disadvantaged children in our community is education and providing the children with the tools they need to succeed.