Sunday, 25 July 2010

Father Bob - Self Proclaimed 'Old Twitterer'

At this point in time, I reckon there is only one multinational organisation that is taking more heat than BP - the Catholic Church. The Pope does have at least one shining light though on his global team, who this past weekend celebrated fifty years in the corporation... Father Bob Maguire.

If you are reading this somewhere outside of Australia, you will find Father Bob Maguire on Wikipedia (I didn't know that before he became a priest in 1960 he was a beekeeper). He has been doing 'front line' work with the people he calls the 'undeserving poor' for exactly half a century - this past weekend, he has celebrated being fifty years a Catholic priest. In recent years, he has gained some media attention around the nation. The fame rests lightly on him I think, because it hasn't changed him doing what he believes to be important... he has simply embraced the media gaze and made it work for his cause. Father Bob is a definite character whose appeal reaches well beyond the 'company shareholders'. He is different and as result, he is loved by people, young and old, from all walks of life in Australia. He appears regularly on the fresh and popular national TV show, 'The 7PM Project'. Father Bob was the first person I started following on Twitter. At the time of publishing this post, Father Bob has 'tweeted' six times already on this Monday morning, having started at around 6.30am - that takes it to 3939 tweets and counting.

I've had a very blessed life and the work I did in schools enabled me to meet Father Bob. The Year 12 students at my last school got to travel out in what Father Bob calls the 'Hope-Mobile'. They would help serve food outside a rooming house in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. The experience makes a huge impression on the students. They meet people who have done it tough in life. Often the kids reflect that before, they might have crossed the street in fear of the 'homeless guy' that they actually met, then talked to, on their night in the Hope-Mobile. It is pretty special when you witness young people discovering that they share so much more in common with someone they thought was totally 'other' to them.

So in recent times I've been very lucky to get to know 'F-Bob', as I like to call him. On a personal level, he has been very encouraging of the full-time adventure I've started this year, creating Time & Space for kids and their parents or mentors. That's how our little corner of the planet came to be visited by this 75 years young 'Rock Star' on Saturday night. Underneath the West Preston Skies, we celebrate with an annual party in my shed. Mums and dads who have become friends through our kids' local school, play a bit of music together. It has been happening for about eight years now and at one of the parties someone came up with the great idea that if we are having so much fun together, why not share the love and give guests the chance to contribute to a charity. This year, we thought - how about supporting the Father Bob Maguire Foundation?

Here is Father Bob's tweet in the lead up to this event...

Must do 7Mass then flip over Bolte & back support Bill J and mates making music in Bill's shed.Funds for FatherBobFoundation.

He's describing that he'll get to the party via the Bolte Bridge after saying mass in his parish at 7 O'Clock. It was so kind of him to come over. Everyone gathers in the shed and we do a quick spiel on the foundation's work.

I offer a context explaining, "In the past, we've raised money for example, to buy an overseas village a goat."

Without missing a beat, Father Bob retorts, "so this year, an 'old goat' has actually turned up to your party!"

Delighted laughter erupts in the shed and for a few minutes the quick wit of this man warms the atmosphere on a cold winter night. A cake arrives to acknowledge his golden jubilee of priesthood and the next day he 'tweets'...

BillJ's place last night.Greeted with an anthem written by local in praise of neighbourhood "Under the West Preston shies".

Maybe a Freudian slip, that 'typo' as we know that Father Bob presents as anything but shy. The 'local' who wrote West Preston Skies is Moi Tyers who leads off on her guitar... we all know the words and by the end of the song, Father Bob is singing along as well.

It was a magic moment. One thing I think we especially love about Father Bob is how he is beautifully self deprecating.

A friend shakes his hand "Father Bob it is so good to meet you!"

"What are you takin' about" says Father Bob, "it is good to meet you more to the point!" He makes people feel good about themselves.

Self deprecation shines through in this morning's tweet...

Must front annual meeting /lunch priests' association.After yesterday's "4 he's a jolly good fellow"50th, just another priest.

Just another priest! C'mon F-Bob! Most of my friends who gathered in the shed are not religious but as Moi's husband Ken said "I just love him... he's got the old values... he's out there looking after people who need help the most... he has an unbelievable rapport with young people... to them he is actually pretty cool!" Ken explains how a young work colleague's girlfriend is helping out with a housing project that the Father Bob Foundation is starting up. A couple of mums at the party have said they'd like to go over and volunteer in the soup kitchen that runs out of the back of Father Bob's parish house.

Kindness begets kindness I reckon.

And humble in the midst of all the delight Father Bob spreads in the world, he tweeted a note of gratitude to all of his anniversary well wishers yesterday.

Thanks 2 all comrades who sent greetings to this ol' twitterer on the "in house" occasion of 50 years strapped to the mast.

Father Bob - you are a legend!

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings


Father Bob on Twitter -
Father Bob's Blog -
Moira Tyers -

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Great Teachers

"Look at that guy dad - he's one of the maths teacher. How cool are his laces?"

My daughter is driving to school... logging in 10 minutes of the 120 hours she needs to take her driving test next year. She points out this man waiting to cross the road as we too, wait for a 'green arrow' at the traffic lights on Bell Street. No fashion expert writing here but to the untrained eye he does look cool. A mop of black curly hair under his bicycle helmet, dark clothes and black boots with some striking red laces, brightly standing out. Again - please note, this is not a fashion blog... but there is a 'grunge cool' look there. The maths teacher is alongside some students and looks happy and content, coming to work to teach.

My daughter offers, "you know what is great about my school? All of the teachers love to teach." You cannot buy that kind of endorsement... these are the sorts of compliments that are earned.

Earlier this week, a Time & Space evening at Simonds College, saw a hardy bunch of parents and even a couple of students come together on a cold, wet night. The evening themes focus the discussion around what is most important in life. At all Simonds events, there in the background... present but unassuming is Bernie, the Principal. He is accompanied by about six of his staff. They've just come along to be part of the night. This may not seem particularly remarkable but in the world of schools, teachers get asked along to so many 'extras', that an optional event like this one might get a polite 'no thanks', in most places. My experience is that the Simonds teachers 'rock up'.

In exploring 'what's important', Eder... a young man from the staff talks up in the group discussion. For someone who is relatively early in his career, he speaks from a place of earned authority... one that comes from the respect that the boys at the school have for him.

"I'm not a parent yet... well, I will be a dad in a few months but I want to say that as a teacher, all the best things happen when kids stop and want to chat with me."

"I might be in between classes and in a rush to the next one but I do try and stop and listen to them. If we tell them we are in a hurry, we might miss the moment. I think being a parent must be like that. There are so many reasons why we are too busy but it is in those times that all the good stuff happens."

I remind Bernie, the Principal, of something he had shared with me at an event earlier this year.

"Bernie, you said that when you are interviewing for a new teaching position, you are looking at the person first."

"That's right," Bernie replies, "We can always help them develop their teaching skills, but it is important to get good people."

Good people like Eder and that cool maths teacher with the red laces who loves teaching.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Quiet Inspiration

A cold rainy night in Hobart earlier this week saw a good crowd of brave people come to St Virgil's College to listen to Stan Alves and find out about the Time & Space programs.

Stan tells his powerful story... we set up a bit of a 'let's move and chat to the people around us' situation. Talk to someone you haven't met... all that usual uncomfortable stuff!

People start to move, react and connect to the powerful messages Stan has had to share about his own dad, about another man who mentored him, helped him train to be a player for the Melbourne Football Club and about his message 'How Lucky Am I?' This message is forged optimistically and comes from some dimensions of Stan's life story where he had to face intense adversity. It is always good to work with Stan. I find something new in his story every time I hear it. It is something to witness how people connect their own experiences to what Stan offers them.

I meet Steven and Annette - what a team! They have a boy at the school who has just started this year. When younger, Steven played at a high level in the Tasmanian State Football Competition. He was a real all rounder, having been a champion in the diving pool as well. I don't find these things out from Steven directly - I get that information from Annette later on. He strikes me as a very humble person.

Steven and Annette just shine and I'm moved by the extraordinary privilege it is to visit schools around Australia, meeting parents who are really having a go at being the best they can be for their kids. We discover we have daughters about the same age. The three of us swap notes. How best do we manage the challenges? We want our girls to be safe as they go out and socialise - how do we balance this with their wishes to be trusted? Here are two people who are just great to be around. There's a strong sense that they have been very intentional about how they have raised their kids. And you know, they have had to be, because...

To have the conversation, the audience were invited down from their tiered seating to stand and mingle on the stage floor below them. Annette had helped Steven down the stairs as I imagine she would have done many times before. She helps by holding, propping, supporting as Steven moves his legs, swinging out in a kind of circling motion, to create a forward momentum so that he can get down from one stair to the next. He laughs a bit as he gets to the stage floor... looks me in the eye, and says kindly, "I'm not drunk you know! It's just that I've got MS."

Annette and Steven explain how their gender roles are a bit non-traditional. Annette kicks the footy with the kids (it doesn't stop Steven from passing on a few tips). Steven explains that Stan's message 'How Lucky Am I', applies to him.

He explains that his dad once asked him if a cure for Multiple Sclerosis was suddenly found, would he be lining up to receive the treatment?

"I told dad, 'no I wouldn't do it' - you see, I've gained so much from this disease. If I didn't have MS, I'd be out working in an office or something like that and missing out on so closely seeing my kids grow up. There are a lot of dads that don't get the chances that I get."

I talk to Annette again later. There is a comfort that Steven has with the world. He got the most out his body prior to the MS onset, when he was able to take himself to high performance levels. Now he is getting the most out of his high performance spirit! Annette states simply, she finds Steven an inspiration.

"He is a great dad", she says. Annette, you're an inspiration as well, just quietly! They are both pretty chuffed when I seek their permission to be 'the story' for this week's post.

Steven seems surprised but offers, "you can write what you like, no worries, but I really don't see myself as that special."

Steven, I'd say that sums up exactly what is special about you.

Thanks for taking the Time and Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Old School Fun

Now I know you will probably get a bit suspicious if you read this blog regularly because the star of this post is someone called... yep, you guessed it, Joe. That makes it three 'Joes' now who have featured in recent weeks. I promise you it is not my default name for someone else!

This is Joe, my son's soccer coach.

Joe provided a moment that was just delightful for its simplicity. What he did, got me asking myself questions.

How do kids have fun today?

Is there too much screen time... too much virtual world?

Are we obsessed with safety and cleanliness to the point that childhood is threatened... risk is eliminated? What learning gets lost? What happens to spontaneity?

The key elements to the back story of this great moment are...

1. It is an extremely cold winter here in Melbourne. In recent times there has also been constant rain. The sports grounds have become waterlogged for the first time in years (it looks like Melbourne may be finally emerging from a drought).

2. Despite the very cold winter these kids, who could be at home on their Play Stations, consistently get to training with their coach, Joe.

3. Joe is a volunteer - he comes down and trains my son's team two nights a week, two hours each session after he has worked for the day. He coaches the team on match day Sunday.

4. Joe is great with the kids. He sets expectations - they respect him and respond. He recently, said humbly "I mightn't know much technically but I do know how to build a team spirit".

And that's exactly what he did at a recent training session. The rain had pelted down in the previous days and a sheet of water had spread across the usual spot where the kids train. At the end of training, Joe brought the team over from the other side of the ground and lined them up at the edge of the massive rain puddle that had formed on the ground. It was big enough for them to stand shoulder to shoulder.

"OK", yells Joe "Take three steps back... now on my count... ONE, TWO, THREE - go for it!"

As a unit the kids sprinted towards the pool, flung themselves into the air, stretched their arms forward... landed and slid on their bellies for a few seconds across the water and mud. They were saturated, filthy and incredibly happy!

This was old school fun.

Thanks for taking the Time & Space to read this.

Bill Jennings

P.S. Released my first e-book last week - enjoy!