Jesus served people. He healed the sick, consoled the marginalized, washed feet. The church from the beginning did the same.

St Patrick’s College is continuing this tradition in the Gympie context. Students have participated in a Social Justice and Volunteering Program as part of the school’s engagement with the wider community for many years. 2020 has seen a significant change to the way this program operates.

The Covid19 crisis, and subsequent social distancing regulations, meant that the long-standing engagement with organisations such as St Vincent de Paul, the St Patrick’s Aged Care Villa and the Jesse Witham Respite Centre could not continue. The students’ desire to give to back to their community, though, was only heightened during this time. Many people are feeling vulnerable and isolated. Members of our elderly community especially suffer with the restrictions on having visitors.

Kim Mooney, acting in the role of Assistant Principal of Religious Education at the College, understands the inherent value of providing students with an opportunity to give back to the community.

Through rough discussions with key stakeholders in the community, Kim developed a new ‘Reach Out’ program which offers students the opportunity to be involved in a phone support program for the parishioners in the community who may be without family or a support network outside the church. Parish priest Father Adrian Farrelly wholeheartedly endorses the program, stating that “it is a great initiative that benefits both the elderly and our younger generations.”

The program works by pairs of students being matched with a parishioner and arranging to call them once or twice a week for a chat. Students keep a digital log of their calls, including reflection. The College provided the students and parishioners clear guidelines for these calls, which were put together in conjunction by Kim with the Office for Safeguarding Services, Archdiocese of Brisbane.

The program has been running for two weeks now and has seen huge success. The comments from the students engaged in the program speak for themselves:

“Jess and I have just got off the phone with Mrs Taylor and it couldn’t have gone better. She is such a lovely lady and we think she was matched perfectly with us!” Georgia, Year 11

“It was lovely to speak to speak to Dawn today. We talked about things we have in common like our love for travel. We’re already looking forward to our next call!” Mackenzie, Year 11

Not only do the parishioners really benefit from this kind of communication during a time of isolation, but the students also have already taken a lot out of the Reach Out Program. Through their participation, students are developing a deeper understanding of self, as well as empathy and compassion for others. There is no debating that this unprecedented time of crisis has many downsides, but there are many upsides.  The ability for young people to reach out to some of our most vulnerable and develop lasting connections with them is a positive we can take away from a very challenging time.