Winter 2017

The Society into the future – youth

Laura Beres

Close to four years ago, Laura Beres was asked to help establish a Vinnies youth program in Adelaide. She assumed it would only require a short-term commitment, but outside of her HR role at Catholic Education South Australia, she is still finding the time to buddy up with kids who need someone like her in their life. Meetups include jumping on trampolines, rock climbing, scavenger hunts in a national park and cooking.

She is also a ‘Fred’s Van’ team leader.

With ever changing and increasingly complex communities, there has never been a more important time for the Society to consider what being a companion means in the context of diverse needs. Part of this is not only about exploring how we can be the best companions, but also how building capacity and confidence is part of this companionship.

Group of people in blue aprons standing in front of Fred's Van.
Laura Beres (front row, second from left) with other Fred’s Van volunteers in Adelaide.

Changes in demographics and the availability of resources for both companions and members demand that the future address how we might meet immediate needs while maintaining an underlying strategy of building confidence, resilience and connections to inspire deep community impact. This future requires a much more proactive approach as well as embracing and utilising the diversity of knowledge and experience that already exists in order to maximise positive impact.

The future of the St Vincent de Paul Society will very much be strengthened by the current strategy of ‘One Society’. This approach will be fundamental in opening up dialogue about how we might be able to work together and identify future potential.

During my time with the Society thus far, I have had numerous opportunities for personal and professional reflection, development and growth. Looking to the future, I see this journey of ‘faith in action’ as an identity rather than a separate part of my life. It is in undertaking this journey of ongoing reflection and growth that I will be better able to remain a relevant companion and servant leader. In undertaking true companionship, building meaningful relationships and ongoing connections will be paramount to future success.

At this stage, where my future within the Society lies, I am unsure. When do I cease being a ‘Youth’ or a ‘young member’, and does this mean I need to transition into a more conventional conference? Will I be as engaged and therefore remain as passionate?

As the Society evolves to adapt to the significant changes in its volunteer demographic, there is no doubt that these feelings of uncertainty will be shared. It is my sincere hope that my passion, knowledge and experience will contribute to developing and trialling adaptable and innovative ways to be meaningful companions into the future. I believe our strengths will prevail in being able to offer the companionship that is relevant to the community—whether that is through assistance, connectedness or building confidence and resilience for future generations.

Group of children sitting on the grass looking at papers.
ildren at a Vinnies kid’s camp. Photo: provided by Laura Beres

The key opportunities for the Society in the next 10 years or so very much rest in a willingness to adapt to the needs of the community. As a young member, I have had the privilege of seeing the immediate impact on our young companions. In building networks with young people and providing structure and support while demonstrating our values, our young companions walk away with a sense of belonging and engagement. Together with life skills, this provides a strong platform for a generation of connected and resilient young people. These young people will have a connection with the Society and potentially become our next generations of Vincentians. We have the opportunity to nurture our future by fostering connectedness—while also potentially reducing their dependence on support agencies. Although not the core work of the Society at present, this is a powerful opportunity for building the sustainability of society membership and the work of the Society into the future. This is also an opportunity to offer more leadership opportunities to passionate young Vincentians, to build their capacity to be active leaders in the Society in the future.

Another opportunity that exists involves harnessing the skills that members already have. This includes promoting an environment that allows members to be creative, explore opportunities and learn from those that don’t succeed, without judgement. It is in promoting creativity and diversity that we will be able to remain relevant and engaging with each other. This, for many, is a cultural shift in the short term but an opportunity to carry forward the essence of how the Society was founded. If I could change one thing about the Society, this would be it.

There is no doubt that there are benefits in having structure in terms of how visits are done, or how meetings are held, or the font of our flyers, and at times this is necessary. But we have an opportunity to encourage creativity by offering flexibility. Without providing this flexibility we may never know our full potential.

The October congress will serve as a means of building the future of the Society by allowing for open dialogue at a national level. This in itself will put into practice the ‘One Society’ strategy. The congress will hopefully be representative of the diversity within the Society, while providing a genuine opportunity for input and action. In order to harness the passion, commitment and skills that will be present at the congress, it will be necessary for action and future planning to form part of the proceedings. The congress will also serve the purpose of being a conduit between the national dialogue and the regional and conference-based dialogue. This ongoing dialogue will be the foundation of the future of the Society, and it is the responsibility for all those who attend the congress to commit to continuing this dialogue and action into their relevant regions.

I have had the privilege of participating in national gatherings of young members such as Rekindle the Flame. This gathering was a combination of celebrating our achievements as young members, spiritual reflections, and professional development. This event provided the opportunity to understand the diversity of the Society but also appreciate that the challenges we face nationally and more recently, internationally. The congress will build on this in bringing together all regions, and provide an opportunity to contemplate our future and what our next steps might be … Exciting, without doubt, and it is my hope that we will be able to embrace the challenges ahead while remaining true to our inspirational founders.

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