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People with a mission for others

Michele Frankeni  |  20 August 2018

The Asquith Youth Conference at their Winter SleepoutVinnies has always been at the forefront of the Catholic Church’s mission on the ground. We speak to two NSW Vinnies members who are working in different ways to widen Vinnies’ mission beyond the traditional model of vouchers for food, utilities and help with rents.

In French’s Forest, NSW, Reg Wong has begun teaching ‘Lifestyle English conversation’ to adult migrants, while in the Diocese of Broken Bay, Michelle Chahine has become Vinnies vice-president for youth and her role is to reignite the young adult membership in the state.

Engaging youth

‘Our Youth Conference in Broken Bay has about 26 members, ranging in ages from 15-25. The Adult Conference members tend to do home visitations, budget counselling, work with refugee and disability services, while the younger members are more involved with children’s activities, food service vans and tutoring programs.’

Michelle says younger members tend to do more group activities and often their time is more constricted as they have to allow for school, university and work schedules.

‘Younger members tend to be available only at certain times and dates, while many of the Adult Conference members are retired so there is less restriction on their time.’

Michelle says there has been a noticeable change in the number of younger people being interested in the work of Vinnies.

‘Some courses, such as social work, have volunteering hours as a prerequisite. They need to put in the hours but of course once they start working with Vinnies they’re in the society for life. While it can be trendy to volunteer and looks good on CVs, most young people really want to contribute to their community.’

She says young people are looking for something they can be involved in that provides and enjoyable time together but also something that benefits the whole community.

Michelle is on her parish council and a fellow councillor asked her along to a conference. ‘It was a good day when I went to my first Vinnies conference.’

Supporting migrants

Reg, also known as Huang Zhi-Wei, is another person committed to Vinnies. While he’s only been a member of Vinnies for 20 years, his connection goes back 60 years to when he first arrived in Sydney as a 16-year-old from Malaysia with no English and no money. He was lucky to find accommodation in a Vinnies-run hostel and when it was sold off and he was once again homeless, he credits the Vinnies network for finding new accommodation for him.

‘The seeds of my involvement with Vinnies were sown in 1959. Belonging to Vinnies is my way of paying back for that help.’

Reg’s move toward a language ministry arose from state efforts about three years ago to come up with ways to attract younger members, as well as to identify community needs not currently catered to by Vinnies.

‘The specific need I identified is in the area of adult immigrants who are handicapped by their inability to communicate in the local language. It is something I can relate to from when I arrived in Sydney and I was not fluent in any language except Hakka (a kind of Chinese Gypsy).’

He says his idea was judged to be the most ‘implementable’.

Reg is in his third year of teaching his English program to adult migrants. It is an open program and he has taught classes in a Uniting Church. After a presentation to the Broken Bay Diocese he was approached by a parish priest who saw a need for a language ministry to and for the Chinese and Korean people in his congregation.

‘For the past 12 months, several volunteers and I have been mentoring adult Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese and Mexican migrants at the Catholic Church in Chatswood.’

Reg says attendees range in age from 25 – 70 and have different levels of English so there are no standard lessons. They talk about a variety of subjects ranging from shopping and sports to family, money and health.

Reg says he’s prepared for any contingencies.

‘Some volunteer mentors drop out because they cannot bridge the communication gap. The result is raised voices and tears, but I am surviving, and progressing, as a mentor.’

ABOUT VINNIES

Vinnies is a lay Catholic organisation and its mission is to live the gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy, and by working to shape a more just and compassionate society.

It does this in myriad ways, from its traditional involvement in hands-on help to a widening mission to involve different groups and also to speak on the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

For more information on Vinnies in your state, see vinnies.org.au and for the Youth Conference, see youthnsw.vinnies.org.au

Visit Australian Catholics for some activities and reflections on People with a mission for others.

Image: The Asquith Youth Conference at their Winter Sleepout

 

Topic tags: healthycommunitylife, socialjustice-australia, catholicsocialteaching

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