Senior High School Students assisting with Conference Visitation

Youth members in Lismore Diocese have stepped up to ensure that those in need of food assistance don’t miss out on receiving help and in the process have also found that the experience has given them new insight into the lives of others in their community.

Barry Whalley, St Mary’s Conference President, attended a meeting in 2014 with other welfare agencies in the Grafton where he heard that the highest demand for people seeking food assistance is on Friday afternoon. “There was no welfare agency open in Grafton after the Conference closed on Thursday until Monday. Clearly there was a need for a Saturday opening of the Conference but I wanted a solution that didn’t impose on the existing members,” Barry says.

Soon after in December 2014 a Year 10 student, Chrisma, approached him after Mass about doing volunteer work. Chrisma said she knew other students who would also like to become involved. “I told Chrisma about the idea for Saturday opening and invited her to sound out like minded senior students,” Barry continues.

“I could see that in order to do this we needed a minimum of 4 working age adults and eight Senior Students – plus reserves – and a mix of male and female. I put notices in the Parish Bulletin seeking new members – especially working age adults. In addition I made a number of visits to McAuley Catholic College and spoke to groups of Year 11 & Year 12 students, outlining the history and work of the Society, and explaining what he hoped to achieve.”

“The response was amazing. Before long we had five working age adults and twelve students and also gained a number of retired/semi-retired weekday members.”

Barry conducted a Welcome Friend session at the school and provided the new recruits with all of the information that they needed.

“The first Saturday we opened three people presented for assistance. Now the Saturday visits at the Centre vary from three to as high as eleven during our 1.5 hour open time. Each member works within their own comfort level. We now have students who can do interviews alongside adult members and some very capable of taking the role as lead interviewer.”

“They are competent & comfortable taking calls and making appointments and handling files. And to the delight of our older members they are well versed in data entry for the Conference assistance records into the spreadsheet and regularly enter files left from the previous week.”

Barry concludes, “There are many positive outcomes of this initiative. The people we assist find it refreshing to have young people giving their time to assist others. Our senior students and adults working on Saturday get great satisfaction working face to face helping others in our community and as interest continues to grow from senior students our Conference has increased from 16 members to 39.”

Youth and Young Adults Conference Grafton full account

Quotes from the young volunteers

‘I have found a passion in helping others and I am now considering doing something similar as a career path. Thank you for the opportunity’. – Noemi 2017

‘Volunteering at Vinnies has not only gained me great life experience but also a new found value for those less fortunate. People who suffer homelessness, financial disadvantage etc. frequently go un-noticed and to know I have fed their family for the week, or paid a portion of their electricity to save them from living in the dark is such a satisfying feeling. Vinnies has taught me not to take my own life for granted because there are people out there suffering silently.’ – Kelly 2015