Last Friday afternoon Chris, Clare and I had the privilege of an extensive tour of Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. At the beginning of last week, the tour was simply an entry in my calendar that would end a no doubt busy week. That calendar entry became the highlight of my week and validated why the Hewison Foundation had been giving to and supporting Sacred Heart Mission for the past three years.
When we arrived, we were greeted with warm eyes and kind hearts. The story of how the Mission was first formed in 1982 by Parish Priest Father Ernie Smith and the introduction on the verandah of the original building, was what you would expect from the beginning of any tour. It was when we started to move into the Dining Hall and began chatting through the services, the daily meal preparation and serving of some 400 meals to people experiencing homelessness or people experiencing disadvantage, that the passion and energy bubbled over. Stories of traumatised and isolated members of our society, that were experiencing extreme hardship, some homeless, some on the brink of it and many who are broken and socially isolated was sad to hear.
Most of us couldn’t even comprehend being in that position, but you’d have to be blind not to know that the problem seems to be worsening in our city. The value of providing a meal in a safe environment creates a sense of connection and belonging for the clients of Sacred Heart Mission that they cannot find anywhere else. The relief this provides them in the face of extreme adversity cannot be underestimated and is one of the first engagement points for the Mission to help people beyond providing a meal service.
I myself had a brief encounter with Sacred Heart Mission way back in the 1990s when, through my school, I volunteered in the dining hall. Like many teenagers, I didn’t really appreciate how deeply a service like this could affect and improve the lives of those I was serving. I didn’t understand how lives could be fractured so badly, that people didn’t have the basic support networks such as family and friends to help protect and support them. But more than 20 years later and with obviously more maturity as a compassionate mother of three, I understand and value the need to do something, anything to help our most disadvantaged community members
What really struck me as we continued our tour was the breadth and depth of services that Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda offers. I really had no idea; did you know Sacred Heart Mission also offers GP services, Allied Health services such as Physiotherapy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Massage, Optometry, Podiatry and more all via volunteers? We heard stories of the pain many clients are in due to illnesses and injuries for which they simply cannot afford to have treatment, and how the service of massage provides a human touch they otherwise would never receive.
When clients arrive for their appointments, they are served a cup of tea and a piece of cake and enjoy a chat. Many do not have the ability to make the requested gold coin donation for treatment, but if they do the next time, they will put that and whatever else they can put together into contributing towards their treatment. It’s an important part of them contributing and their very own sense of gratitude and being able to give back; clients hate to be takers.
The one volunteer service they are missing is a hairdresser. There was a hairdresser for many years but since that volunteer could no longer offer their time the mission has been actively seeking the volunteer services of another hairdresser. Are you or were you a hairdresser who is still handy with some scissors? Or do you know somebody who is? Perhaps this is a way that you could help? A haircut or wash and blow dry is an important service to offer clients and even more important as clients begin the road to employment and job interviews.
Next stop on the tour was the Women’s House – a safe community space that is female only, breakfast and lunch is served at the Women’s House every day. It really does feel like a home, with a kitchen, living room, laundry, bathroom and a sleep room for women to rest and sleep after an exhausting night on the streets. Counselling and legal services are also provided in the Women’s House, a computer, internet access, workshops from how to write a resume, to knitting and several arts and craft activities are also scheduled based on volunteers’ skills and availabilities. The Women’s House was a particularly special part of the tour for Chris Morcom who has been championing the Hewison Foundation’s commitment to Sacred Heart Mission; particularly to the Women’s House and the innovative Journey to Social Inclusion program.
Is was in awe of the warmth and heart centred listening that each staff member and volunteer had for clients. It was infectious, inspiring and moving to see smiles come from people who wouldn’t necessarily feel that out on the streets and who were struggling for social inclusion daily.
I’m naturally a ‘fixer’ I like to solve and ‘fix’ things. Yes, I know this is not always a good thing, especially as I found my mind wandering towards “What can we do to stop the cycle of damage, trauma and harm to our children and young people? How do we break the cycle that ultimately leads to fracturing lives?” With the average age of people that Sacred Heart Mission helps being in their 40’s, it was my natural tendency to ask the questions about how do we curtail this? I had to compartmentalise that, move it to the side and look at what was in front of me – a service that was far beyond my initial understanding. The staff and volunteers bring such dignity and hope to the lives of so many, they should be applauded and acknowledged. I could recount so many stories that we heard but I had better wrap this up, have I still got you?
I’ve been saving the best for last. The most impressive and jaw-dropping part of the tour was the newly opened $28M multi-level, state of the art Aged Care facility, with full medical care. The first part of the facility was opened earlier this year and is now home to 46 happy residents, for many this is the first place they have ever been able to call home. Upon full completion, the Sacred Heart Community Building will be home to almost 100 residents who have nowhere else to go within the ‘system’. Individual rooms boast ensuites with patterned tiles, common spaces have comfy armchairs, views of St Kilda abound, warm meals are served, and medical care is provided to those with disabilities, terminal diseases and the ageing. It is a safe place to call home and the one place where care and support can be delivered for the rest of their lives. Margaret who manages the facility was beyond passionate about “her people” so much so we all had goosebumps as she spoke.
Clare, Chris and I all experienced a renewed vigour for the Sacred Heart Mission last week and all that it has evolved to become. We bounded back into the office last Friday keen to brainstorm more ways in which we can help, no matter how big or small, whether it be team driven by us here within the Hewison Private Wealth office, or as a collective community with our clients and extensive business networks
As a business, the team at Hewison Private Wealth have the privilege of working with successful, hard-working and fortunate individuals and families. It only seemed right that we also found a way to work with the opposite end of the spectrum and live out our philanthropic responsibility. Whilst the Hewison Foundation provides funds to Sacred Heart Mission, many of the Hewison team provide their time as volunteers at the Sacred Heart Mission. Volunteering enriches peoples’ lives and helps all of us to be grateful for what we have rather than what we don’t have and certainly wraps perspective around things.
As I mentioned earlier, over the past three years the Hewison Foundation has specifically donated funds to support the Mission’s innovative Journey to Social Inclusion program and the Women’s House. The Women’s House is currently experiencing a funding gap of $330K and is seeking to close this gap urgently.
For those of you attending next week’s golf day, Andrew from the Sacred Heart Mission will be in attendance. I encourage you to spend some time chatting with Andrew, to feel the passion and understand the ongoing needs of their organisation. It’s cliché…. but no matter how big or small your contribution is, whether it be time, money, or both it all counts towards continued service and support to those who need it most. I can guarantee Sacred Heart Mission has become so much more than just a "soup kitchen" and a few op shops.
Pictured Below is the iconic St Kilda view from the top of the Sacred Heart Community Building
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