Alissa Holton, Change Maker

10 June 2014

“I THINK my friends would describe me as a creative person. I always have a project on the go and am always talking about new things I am working on/trying to include myself in. They would probably saying “Alissa is always on the move” and more importantly, “Alissa walks the talk”. I hope they say that last thing. It is super important to me that people view my work as in action and not just something that I talk about.”

My first impression of Alissa is that she is impossibly accomplished, impossibly busy and most of all, impossibly young. In a quick Google search, it is made abundantly clear that Alissa was a rising star, and as the MC for TEDxQUT, I invited her to tell me a little more about herself.

Alissa (a former QUT student) is a passionate wife and friend, who is heavily invested in ideals such as “people having a fair go”, “equality”, and “social justice”. She currently works for the Foundation for Young Australian (FYA)* in a change making teams called “The Young Social Pioneers of Australia.” She also leads collaborations for another FYA project called “Unleashed”. However, it was in 2007 when Alissa’s change making really hit the big time through her project Specialised Programs and Community Endeavours (S.P.A.C.E).

I wanted to learn a little more about S.P.A.C.E, and Alissa’s enthusiastic response is unmissable. S.P.A.C.E was a passion project that I started in my early twenties. S.P.A.C.E is a community centre, for but not limited to the disabled community, accessed by people living as close as Kenmore and as far as the Gold and Sunshine Coast. S.P.A.C.E was the first universally designed community facility in Brisbane. The part about S.P.A.C.E that made us innovative was that we would not be defined as a disability service provider; we would simply be an accessible community centre. This was important. I knew in my heart that the disabled community of Brisbane didn’t need another thing to fight against so instead we gave them was something to fight for. S.P.A.C.E was an alternative solution to what the sector at the time was offering in terms of quality of life for a person with special needs.

Alissa, just like the rest of us has to get work done too. A typical day (like many of us can relate to) begins with a cup of coffee and a quick surf of the internet (to which she jokes, that her passions lie in Facebook and Pinterest). Then it’s hard on the job, making sense of strategy document, creating agenda’s, designing my next phase of workshops, studying a new book and so on. Alissa explains that “A big part of my job I to be available to the Pioneers and so often my week is full of talking to them and helping them to get what they need.”

I asked Alissa the questions asked of everyone applying for tickets to TEDxQUT and while she’s not sure if it will change the world, one of Alissa’s ideas is a campaign that sees communities donating tea cups to brighten the lives of people in nursing homes. Called “Plastic to Porcelain” it sure sounds like it could be a hit!

If you make it to TEDxQUT, make sure to say hi to Alissa, she’s sure to have something amazing to talk about. If you’re looking for some conversation starters here are some fun facts: Alissa loves TED Talks – especially by Dr Brené Brown; her favourite film is Jurassic Park and; she will be celebrating Christmas this year in New York!

While you might be ending your day, or just beginning, take some time to think about this quote, it shows the true inspiration which underlies Alissa’s work. “You take what you have and do the best that you can with it. I am a firm believer that you don’t wait e.g. wait to be inspired. Wait to feel creative. Wait for someone to give you permission. You just act upon educated decisions and help where you are most needed. That is important. Sometime we need leaders. Sometimes we need followers. Sometimes we need someone to put tomato sauce on the hot dogs. It is all important and it is all ‘being of service’ when done with the right intentions.”


What are you passionate about?

I used to be able to answer that but right now I am not so sure. My passions have evolved in the last few years. I’m a passionate person in general - highly emotive and large about my life. The things that I would say I am passion about are at this stage in my life heavily linked to ideals such as “people having a fair go” and “equality” and “social justice”. At the same time I am also passionate about my marriage, my family and my relationships with other in general. Finally, I am passionate about Pinterest and Facebook. Lol.

Have you ever had a great Idea that could change the world?

I’m not sure it would change the world but….At the beginning of my career I was a Music Therapist and as part of my training I spent 6 months working in a nursing home. I found it very depressing and difficult work. In particular the aesthetics of living in a nursing home were gross. Everything was a bit dull, a bit old, or a bit unloved. Something that really sticks in my memory is that there is a lot of tea in nursing homes – but not a lot of tea cups. The residents are asked to drink out of thick plastic mugs or a fed their tea out of this plastic bottles. It is sad and not respectful of the lives they have lived. My idea is a campaign that sees communities donating tea cups to replace the plastic ones. I would call it “Plastic to Porcelain” and it would be a total hit!

Written by Melissa Blacklock