Dynamic program supports community in good times and in bad

Regular contributor Monica Scanlon shares one school community’s efforts to ‘walk the walk’.

In good times and in bad...

St Joseph’s Primary School Merewether’s Caring Team provides service and support to those in special need within its community – students, families and staff. The Caring Team is co-ordinated by classroom teacher Donna McMillan, who is quick to acknowledge the unstinting support given by principal, Michael Doyle.


Donna sees the need to “be the face of God to people and set an example which then motivates them to reach out and care for others”.  In 2010 the Parents & Friends Association (P & F) at St Joseph’s recognised, along with Donna, that a caring team was a priority for supporting both the highs and lows of family life. This team could see a need to formalise what was happening daily in offers of friendship, love and support in the community. 


Donna and fellow teacher Emma McCulloch are backed by a group of willing volunteers who include parents, grandparents and parishioners, friends of school members and ex-student families whose names, numbers and email addresses are filed for reference. Donna said, “I can see that the Caring Group strengthens bonds within the community. It joins parents, staff and parishioners into partnership, living and growing in faith and love.” Sometimes parents work full-time and are unable to come to school for canteen or reading groups but can contribute to the community, eg, by making a casserole. The P & F purchased a freezer to store meals to be ready for times of need. 


Donna said, “People enjoy helping each other and want to help but sometimes don’t know how.” The caring group co-ordinates outreach at times of loss of loved ones, family breakdowns, new arrivals in families and in the school community. Caring Team activities and contact details are distributed in the school newsletter. Sometimes the families that have been helped are then able to lend support to others in the future. 


Donna cited examples of how a sudden tragedy in a family can cause dysfunction. The outreach includes transportation to school, provision of a meal, practical advice, welcome cards to new babies, condolence cards, listening over a cup of tea or making a phone call to touch base, assisting with school uniforms, excursions or lunches.  Donna acknowledged the wonderful support of the school canteen. The team has also facilitated donations of non-perishable foods and household items to Penola House and the St Vincent de Paul Society in conjunction with social justice projects undertaken at the school. Through witnessing the Caring Team’s actions, the students are learning about supporting others. At the beginning of winter the Year 6 sports captains initiated fundraising to aid those in need. 


The names of those in need are kept strictly confidential and distribution of food and clothes happens with the utmost discretion. Funds are raised from the school crazy sock day and gardening group harvest days. Local businesses support the initiatives of the team, especially at the 2013 “getting to know you” activity day which brought the team and community members together. 


The team receives wonderful feedback that encourages members to continue their work. Messages of gratitude have included these comments: “We have been completely overwhelmed by your ongoing support and care of our family during this difficult time” and, “Your help was like having an angel in our home”. Perhaps the most telling affirmation was, “You are truly Christian and caring in your efforts to reach out to others.”


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