Name: Dennis Innes
Position in the Society: State President, St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland
Day job: Retired
How did you first become involved in the Society?
I retired in 2005 and began delivering emergency relief through a provider who was not connected to the Society. After a period, I began to feel I was not really making a difference. In Society terms, I felt I was providing a hand-out and not a hand up. So, I parted company with that provider and went back to being retired. My wife joined our local conference in 2008 and when they were short on Vincentians for home visits, I was asked to join to assist. Was that God calling me to be ‘more’? Perhaps it was, because 10 years later here I am, thoroughly committed to the Society’s mission of serving Christ in the poor.
What do your family and friends think of your involvement with the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland?
I’ve never sought comment on how they feel—I’ve never had a need for affirmation. However, I do know I have their love and support in what I do in the Society. Many of my friends have commented on my willingness to commit and be involved, but upon reflection I see that they’re in the same boat. We all have commitments and our own ways of giving back. Yes, there are times that events or happenings in the Society clash with very important occasions with family and friends, and I am not able to be present. I feel secure in the knowledge that we have sufficient deposits in our ‘emotional bank accounts’ so that we can accept we cannot be everywhere every time. We make the most of the times we share together and, when necessary, my good wife reminds me in good humour that ‘it’s not all about you, princess’.
Can you describe the attributes of those leaders whom you admire most?
At 70, my life has been influenced by so many people I admire. However, my father faced some very difficult situations in his early life, and I am ever grateful for his devotion and love of family. My mother passed away when I was approximately 18 months old. Her death was attributed to the complications of childbirth, which I understand was fairly common around the late 40s and early 50s. My father faced the prospect of raising four children under the age of nine. I look back on his life and can only be inspired by his honesty, commitment, passion, decision making and the accountability he faced with Children’s Services in his role as a single dad. He was an extremely good role model to me.
Besides my father, there have been many leaders I admire; teachers who encouraged me to be a better student and bosses who created opportunities for me to advance my career. Sometimes it is the simplest of words that matter most. A postmaster once said to me (I was once a telegram boy) ‘You will go through life doing good, and you will also make mistakes. You will not be remembered just for the good you did, but also for the mistakes you made; but most importantly, you will be remembered for how you corrected those mistakes with the people you let down.’
In terms of the Society, I pay reverence to those from the past: our founder Frédéric Ozanam and all those who worked so hard to spread the Society throughout the world, especially those who began the first conference in Red Hill, Queensland in 1894. My admiration goes to everyone who belongs to the Vinnies family—the volunteers, members and staff who provide support and give their time and talents to make it possible for the Society to be there every day for Queenslanders. Last year, the Society assisted 306,000 Queenslanders—that is one in 15 Queenslanders who were supported in some way. That does not happen without people stepping up to the plate and putting into action our Society’s values of respect, advocacy, integrity, empathy, compassion, courage and commitment.
What do you think the year ahead will hold for the St Vincent de Paul Society in Queensland?
The year ahead will present many challenges—importantly, having the courage and the commitment to adopt action plans developed by and for each diocese. Some of the presentations at the end of our recent Queensland Congress focussed on reconciliation with Australia’s first peoples, social inclusion, new ways of fundraising, recruitment, embracing cultural diversity, and youth engagement—just some of the many opportunities we now have to create a ‘new beginning’.
Challenges or quirks you’ve noticed that are unique to either charities, the Society or Queensland in general?
There are many challenges we face, including developing new leaders to take on duties in conferences as our current members age, and governance around compliance and reporting as members seek to simply be there for our companions. There are also challenges around funding new technology to ensure we keep up in an ever-changing world, raising our profile in the community, achieving balance so members feel part of and have ownership of the change, and the need for conferences to demonstrate how our actions relate to outcomes. Decreased funding through donations or government cutbacks is a challenge, as is changing the focus of our retail operations so that we become the charity of choice; and finally, sourcing more material donations so the Society can continue to fund new and existing programs that make a real difference.
How do you spend your spare time?
Family and travel.