"Mudgee has given me a lot," says Renée French, resident of Mudgee for the last six years.
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Mudgee community members who know Ms French could say that the debt has been repaid many times over.
Whether in her current role as Community Engagement Specialist with Mudgee Region Tourism, or her previous roles in community theatre productions, hosting "Go Grazing" events at Mudgee wine festival, or her position as trainee winemaker at a prominent Mudgee Winery - Ms French has engaged with Mudgee community life since her arrival.
Ms French and her partner have raised three children in Mudgee, with the eldest being the reason why they moved from Sydney.
"We needed to make a change," Ms French said.
"Schooling in Sydney was becoming stressful with long commutes and we were all feeling like we were being pulled in a thousand directions - something needed to give."
Both Ms French and her partner have a firm belief that community involvement for their family has brought them a rich sense of wellbeing, and now all her children have participated in multiple productions of Cudgegong Youth Theatre and Mudgee Performing Arts Society.
"We moved here away from family and friends and started from scratch with no connections. We prioritised community involvement as we knew it would give us that sense of support and family" Ms French said.
I benefited hugely from having a winemaker who was a woman as my mentor...- Renee French
Ms French remembered the moment where she realised the Mudgee community offered a sense of belonging, when she walked into Lowe Wines as a visitor in 2017 and was greeted by Shane Garland.
"He shook my hand and said 'Welcome, I'm Shane - and what's your name?' I was floored. Such a simple gesture made me feel so welcome, like Mudgee was a place that cared about people," Ms French said.
Participation in Mudgee Readers' Festivals, Mudgee Performing Arts Society and Cudgegong Youth Theatre helped her children build confidence and a sense of teamwork.
"Teamwork and volunteering are great levellers," Ms French said.
"It helps us all realise that there are things greater than us, that being selfless is really important and committing to a community goal teaches us that we can only get out what we put in."
Ms French has also tried to model to her children that motherhood is no barrier to women achieving their dreams.
Ms French commenced studying a Wine Science degree at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga in 2018, which required a full-time, difficult study load of chemistry and stoichiometry along with on-site laboratory intensives, practicum and examination weeks.
"I benefited hugely from having a winemaker who was a woman as my mentor, and there are a few women winemakers around now, but still not many," Ms French said.
"Even fewer are mothers with children. I wanted to smash that glass ceiling and show other women that it is possible."
As economic environments get harder, Ms French encourages others to invest in their communities and embrace the opportunities that the Mudgee region offers.
She believes that it is a diverse region and through her current role as Community Engagement Specialist, she aims to bring together talented individuals and their ideas, businesses, events and create unified experiences for both locals and visitors.
"I fell in love with Mudgee when I arrived, but the community continues to give me and my family so much. We're just so grateful to be living and thriving here," Ms French said.
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