Written by Leanne Esposito

Self-Worth Self-Love Self-Esteem Self-Motivation Self-Confidence =

Memo to self: Always believe in yourself, even in those moments when you think nobody else does.

On the flip side, try to remember there is always another woman ready to lift you up when you’re feeling down. There’s a whole world of women cheering you on and who values your worth.

This year International Women’s Day sees a number of missions to help forge a general equal world by celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility while calling out inequality.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 it makes perfect sense that we would dedicate our cover story to a woman who has made it her life’s mission to empower as many women as possible.

In 2015 Sonia Raco founded the Executive Women’s Wellness Society, while working in Sydney. As a National Administration Manager and Senior Executive Assistant in the male dominated engineering and construction industry, Sonia identified a major issue for working women.

“Women were burning out, working seven to seven and sacrificing precious family time. Their family and their own lives were being impacted,” Sonia said.

“I created a movement that empowers and inspires women to care for and prioritise their mental health.”

With this first step, she discovered her life’s calling and has since dedicated herself to learning and sharing all that she can.

“I strongly support and encourage women to strive in leading a happy, healthy, creative, successful, and fulfilling life,” she said.

It certainly wasn’t an easy juggle. It never is for women who have for centuries been tasked with the role of homemaker, and now breadwinner; equally dividing their resources between the two.

Sonia, blessed with beauty and brains, believed that her mission included a reimagining on the role of women in the workplace. Transforming outdated perceptions, she commenced a holistic journey of self-discovery through education.

Sonia’s power shifted from commercial to caring. The transition from corporate executive to holistic healer was a massive leap. But like an Olympic gymnast she successfully straddled the two worlds. Adding hypnotherapy, Neuro Linguistics Programming (NLP), Emotional Freedom Tapping (EFT), kinesiology, mindfulness, and meditation to her armoury she was prepared to go to battle for women.

It was an amazing feat which gave rise to a movement empowering women’s wellbeing in the corporate world. Women flocked to her speaking events.

“My first one was a free event at Customs House in Sydney. I had a lot of self-doubt so you can imagine my excitement when over 70 women came to that event wanting to learn more about their health and wellbeing,” Sonia said.

That may well have been the first stop at Sonia’s wellness station and now her truth train is still chugging well along the tracks of empowerment and gathering momentum. Women climbed on board. Tickets to the events were selling like proverbial hot cakes. While in Sydney, she was hosting some 250 women at annual breakfasts where guest speakers would discuss topics of health, wealth, love and spirituality. It’s what women wanted but more importantly Sonia believed it’s what they needed. Then covid hit and more crises followed.

Sonia retreated to Hervey Bay and into the loving arms of her family of strong Italian women.

“I had been coming here since I was 12holidaying with my family. My parents retired here. I was also going through a very difficult time personally,” she said.

If you ever needed proof that there are strong women ready to lift you up, then the Raco family story is it.

Empowering others appears to be a strong family trait. You only have to look to their matriarch. Sonia’s mother Connie bucked traditionally imposed gender and cultural roles. As an Italian mother she pursued opportunities and was a strong role model to her three daughters.

She built her community childcare business and was a homemaker. Fortunately, her kind and loving husband believed in her from the start. He walked beside her, demonstrating how a successful male female partnership could work.

“My mother has always loved being involved in the community, working with children and in her local church. She also did volunteer work with the school and from there her passion to care for children came alive.

“That’s what I love about my mum she always pursued what she wanted to do. She managed a home, raised a family but also pursued an entrepreneurial passion. My dad, although initially reserved, became one of her biggest supporters proving that age old perceptions can be challenged and changed.

“I lost my dad 10 years ago. I have watched my mum do it all, build her community day care business, become a foster mother to many young and vulnerable children and help look after her own family. She is a powerhouse of a woman,” she said.

Today Connie and her three daughters work daily caring for others. Josie is the founder of Fraser Coast Disability Services in Hervey Bay and the youngest Gabriella, who is hearing and vision impaired, is the bookkeeper.

Sonia says that Gabriella runs rings around them in the office. She is seen as the epitome of strength and resilience. Sonia tells me that Gabriella has never allowed her disability to hinder her life. It seems that mum Connie has been instrumental in shaping her daughters’ strength of character.
“Every time I feel like life has knocked me down I turned to my family for support. Growing up my mum often said to me never allow your mental health to be jeopardised or broken. That is yours and yours to protect, always make it your number one priority to look after it.

“Her words stayed with me and empowered me through hardships in relationships and toxic workplaces. I discovered my emotional and mental resilience. It empowered me and I feel I have a duty to share that knowledge with the community,” she said.

Sonia has now added a few more strings to her bow with Harmony Pathways, her therapy business offering support and assistance with anxiety, depression, stress, burnout, grief, loss, trauma, domestic violence and more.

“I have started a personal group of 20 women who meet every month. It is a free session. We discuss and share on topics that women are feeling as a whole. It could be on how to avoid stress and burnout, managing anxiety and depression or not feeling good enough. I coach them emotionally within their businesses, careers and personal life on mental and emotional resilience and breaking limiting beliefs. Some of those women have turned around their business, careers and personal life completely because we dig deep and do the internal work by empowering their subconscious mind. Breaking generational change and thoughts of not being good enough.

“I’ve seen a lot of women who I support whether it’s been in a personal crisis, in their careers or business. I help them shine and get through. It has personally taken me years to build my success and I work at it every day.” she said.

In September 2021 Sonia was appointed the President of Myriam Cottage, a refuge for vulnerable women. Marie Gibbon is the founder of the house in honour of her late mother whose life’s dream was to help women facing homelessness and struggling with their mental health. Sonia is a driving force who doesn’t just warm a committee chair, she gets out there and does it all from coaching and mentoring to community fundraising.

“Marie and I go to the neighbourhood centre where the tents are up. We scout out and look for women over 18 (we can assist). The house is built to transition an individual from homelessness to finding a safe space of their own. I coach and mentor residents and help them re-build their lives.

“Our committee started with five and I built it up to have ten. We are involving the community in events. A walk to the pier for Myriam event to raise money for the house. I advocate within the community to get more donations and support. We do whatever we can to help vulnerable women within the community,” she said.

As a holistic wellness practitioner Sonia works on the mind and body in numerous ways. The positivity with which she does is now underpinned by her publication, the Strong Mind, Fearless Heart Journal. It’s another tool in the Sonia’s bountiful box to empowering women. It is a beautifully designed positive affirmation journal created to support and empower women on their life-long health and wellbeing journey. The all Australian designed and printed journal was no overnight idea or money grab, it was a labour of love for Sonia during an extremely difficult time.

“It was a self-exploration journey. A creative outlet. I was working in corporate at the time when I was running a wellness lunchtime group of 15-20 women each week. Once I did the research I received feedback from them. I created and designed it to leave with the women between the sessions. They would write in it and we would discuss their writing at the next session. I believe in these affirmations which I created and how they are an instrumental and holistic tool for healing mentally and emotionally,” she said.

Now the journal can be found at various outlets across Hervey Bay, The Dayman General Store, Pocket, Tinkerbells, Go Girl and Replenish Refill.

All of this work may seem like a lot but it’s just a day in the life of Sonia Raco. She is a livewire. It doesn’t stop with the Executive Women’s Wellness Society, Harmony Pathways or Myriam Cottage – there is more. She goes about sharing her empowerment and wisdom with all, including her sister Josie’s client’s at Fraser Coast Disability Services.

“We have a ladies’ night of about 10-15 women every Wednesday night. We do karaoke, dance and sing all while encouraging them to make friendships and have some fun. We call it Josie’s place.

“I am coaching them mentally and emotionally. Helping them break through their barriers living with a disability. Josie’s work is empowering. My sister decided we have really capable clients. She has encouraged them to be paid for their work and to start new businesses, like photography and pet minding.

“The community are really believing in the program. Josie has a program called ‘Rising Stars’ and they are gaining in self-confidence. Before they would isolate. With us they are loved supported nurtured and empowered. We want them to be in a safe and loving space and succeed at whatever they choose,” Sonia said.

Sonia’s women’s wellness program is eclectic and unique. As a holistic practitioner she works wonders on the mind and body by smashing self-sabotaging and limiting beliefs. Sonia digs really deep working at the level of the sub-conscious.

“Self-love is not only a long hot bath or going to the gym to exercise. They are practices we put in place to act out self-love.

“Self-love is actually where we consciously start to be aware of our self-talk, people and protecting our personal boundaries. It is reframing and mastering our mindset to ultimately become a better version of ourselves.

“Everybody has a story. Everybody has limiting beliefs. But how do you deal with that as a person? By being your own cheerleader and believing in yourself.

“A lot of people struggle with trusting themselves. There were times when I doubted myself too.
“But the difference is that doing the internal work is very powerful, reframing my self-talk to be positive because whatever is coming my way I trust myself enough now to know I can handle it,” she said.

Even today Sonia acknowledges the additional power of surrounding yourself with positive strong women is super empowering.

“My family remind me all the time of where I want to be. Being around women who are empowering your goals and not protecting their own is important,” she said.

Sonia’s world is all about empowerment. I am reminded that her words mirror those of the great poet, author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou who suffered terrible disempowerment because of her gender and race. Who as a child was so afflicted by traumatic events she did not speak for several years but who made up for those lost linguistic years, forever after writing brilliant eloquent prose.

You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
Sonia Raco wants you to remember that this is your world, that you are strong, you are fearless and you are more than enough! She can help you take control and shape it before somebody else does.

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Read by Leanne Esposito