Winter 2018

Grassroots commitment to our companions

The St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn has been assisting people experiencing poverty and disadvantage in our community since 1886, with our first conference established in Braidwood NSW. The Society has over 680 members in 52 conferences and, as is the case with all Vincentians, our conferences support individuals and families and run a range of support programs across the Canberra/Goulburn archdiocese. At the core of our work is a grassroots commitment to assisting our companions to break the cycle of disadvantage.

Over the past 12 months the Society launched a number of programs to improve the opportunities of our companions to achieve the best outcomes in life.


Three people in a Vinnies shop.
Attending the opening of Thread Together in May, from left: Greg Fischer, CEO of Thread Together; Erin
MacArthur, Director of Volunteer Programs; Barnie van Wyk, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/

In October 2017, the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn and the Scouts Association of Australia (ACT) launched VINES, a new project in the Tuggeranong Valley to support at-risk young people to rediscover their better and stronger inner selves by providing a range of activities aimed at positive outcomes; these included building new life skills, networking, social and emotional development.

The program is currently in the pilot phase and will operate for 12 months. The VINES acronym stands for Vinnies, Inspiring, Networking, Education and Support. The program will assist young people to learn practical living skills in a safe and fun environment.

The program operates on weekends and once a week during the school holidays. The Society and the Rover Scouts organise a mix of social and adventurous activities to foster positive risk-taking behaviours, ultimately aimed at breaking intergenerational disadvantage. The program has been supported by small grants aiding in the purchase of equipment and supporting the coordinated activities.

The Scouts Association of Australia contributes to the education of young people through the value system based on the Scout Promise and Law, where individuals are self-fulfilled and play a constructive role in the community. Currently, the program is focussing on 25 young people aged 8 to 16 years.

Thread Together

The Society has recently launched the Vinnies Thread Together clothing hub, an exciting new joint venture between St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn and Thread Together, a not-for-profit organisation that has arrangements with clothing manufacturers and fashion retailers to receive new and excess clothing for distribution via its charity partners to vulnerable people who are doing it tough.

The St Vincent de Paul Society is the leading charity supporting people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the Canberra/ Goulburn region by providing brand new clothes that contribute real value and dignity to the community and people in need.

The Thread Together clothing hub, operating from the Vinnies shopfront in Phillip, supports people at risk of homelessness from a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances, including people exiting institutions, refugees and asylum seekers, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, Indigenous communities, young people  and victims of domestic and family violence. The program ensures those in need receive a tailored service which reflects the current stage of their personal journey—from comfortable clothes for companions living in a crisis centre through to clothes aimed at keeping children’s lives as normal as possible, to finally having clothes suitable for re-entering the work-force and regaining independence, that shape confidence and restore self-esteem.

To date, a number of asylum seekers and vulnerable companions have been assisted to stay warm during the cold Canberra winter. Within the first week of opening the Thread Together clothing hub, a companion going for job interviews was assisted with professional attire that gave them the confidence to secure full-time employment with a transport company in Canberra.

The venue that serves as the clothing hub is also a place to take a break, where members of the local community can volunteer their time for the good of their community, build friendships and enjoy companionship.

Initially, the service will operate on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm and will be available by appointment and referral only. Other community organisations have been invited to become referring partners, as we endeavour to make this service available to as many people as possible in need in our community.

Migrant and refugee tutoring program

During the process of settlement, migrant and refugee children are faced with unique challenges, especially in terms of negotiating their sense of identity and belonging. Experiencing positive social interactions with others in their community is crucial to enabling them to integrate successfully and to form a sense of identity. Providing them with opportunities to gain positive social interactions and experiences during the process of settlement can help them negotiate the challenges they encounter as they integrate into a new community.

These children often have had limited education opportunities and lack literacy skills in English as well as in their language of origin, so there is a need to support schools in the children’s learning and development. Schools often lack the resources to provide one-to-one support, which is necessary to increase the children’s skills and self-esteem.

The Society launched a new migrant and refugee tutoring program in the first week of June for primary school aged children. North Ainslie and Florey primary schools in the ACT have both engaged with the program and are offering sessions of one to two hours on a weekly basis. Eighteen volunteers were trained to staff the program to provide a positive learning environment that encourages the children to become interested in learning. The program is currently in the trial phase and is being monitored from an administration and planning perspective; but we anticipate that once it is up and running and we have evaluated the initial outcomes, it will be moved to a conference model.

The migrant and refugee tutoring program will offer a reading program, providing one-to-one support to children in the Introductory English Centres during literacy classes, held in the morning for 90 minutes. The facilitation of cultural activities will promote positive social interactions by recognising and celebrating the children’s diverse backgrounds. School teachers will be the main facilitators of these classes, and volunteers will assist with reading and activities.

The Lunchtime Club will conduct interactive activities for 30 minutes during the school’s lunch time, with the aim of promoting cultural exchange. The sessions cultivate empowerment and belonging as children explore and discover their broader community in a safe and welcoming environment with their peers and mentors.

Finally, the Homework/Mentoring Club will be introduced in the future as a next phase, focussing on providing language, homework and other educational support, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, while promoting personal and social confidence.

The Territory Council, conference members, volunteers and employees are all focussed on achieving the best results for those who call on our help, and to ensure that we get the best value for those who support us financially or in kind, as confirmed through our Strategic Plan.

Barnie van Wyk is CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society Territory Council of Canberra/Goulburn.

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