Friday, 17 February 2012

Breaking News - Volunteers Stuff Envelopes!

A 'mail-out' was conducted in a beautiful house in a leafy green Melbourne suburb on Tuesday night last week. There you go. This is an international scoop for the Time & Space Blog. Now admittedly, it has been a big news week. If you are reading this sometime after publication – here’s what else has happened: Whitney Houston died last Saturday; Greece is on the brink of economic default and the world is watching as hundreds are murdered in Syria every day. Still, having sat on this mail-out story for ten days now, the big media outlets have had their chance.

The St Kevin's College Fathers Association support a lot of bonding experiences for the boys of the school and their mums, dads and mentors. With the help of some key people on the school staff (who get the printing, the labels and envelopes ready), this committee promote the programs organising practical things like this mail-out to let families know about them.

So who are the heroes of this world exclusive? Jerome, Kaz and his wife Nancy, Onofrio (that’s Italian for ‘Humphrey’ which means 'peaceful warrior' – I found that out on that thing they call the World Wide Web), Stan and Sergio, joined Adrian, Judith and their kids in their home. The envelopes were stuffed in 90 minutes. They first program batch of letters were posted the next day. Job done.

So there is the news. You’re dumbfounded… earth shattering revelation – yes? You’ll never forget where you were when read this first – right?

OK – let’s remove the tongue from the cheek for a moment and have a look at three subtle things that were happening at this event.

1. Walking up the driveway, a young primary school girl was stretching forward on the trampoline, reading a book.

“Is this where the meeting is for the St Kevin’s dads?”

“Yes” says the girl, glancing at a timer in her hand, intently focusing on the book. Her eyes hardly looked up.

Adrian, her dad, opens the door and welcomes me in. A few minutes later, the young lady wanders in.

“Bill, have you met Grace?”

“Very briefly” I answer, “Grace told me, just before, that I was at the right address… which was really nice of her cos’ I could see she was very busy.”

I discover she was timing her nightly twenty minute reading session. She smiles and explains, “That was why I couldn't show you in. I had to finish my reading”.

“That’s a great habit to form Grace – really impressive how serious you are about it,” I say.

Adrian and Grace then just banter about the day and a delightful exchange between father and daughter transpires quite naturally. The everyday family routine was happening before me.

2. As the mail out crew arrived, the jobs were sorted and the team got underway. This is when we met Alex, Adrian and Judith's oldest. He came downstairs and was invited to help out for a while... folding, stuffing envelopes, joining in. He was happily engaging in the chat. Letting the other dads and mums know how his start to the year had gone. A few opinions about Year 7 & 8 rivalry were shared. For a few minutes, he was our fellow helper.

Earlier I'd said to Adrian... "You're good to be hosting this and you've been on the committee for a while now. Very generous of you to give up your time. I think your kids will remember that you chipped in and got involved."

I explained how my dad used to run mail-outs in our dining room for the Old Collegians Association at my school. Adrian’s dad got involved in school things too. We swapped a few stories, remembering our parents’ efforts. They weren't perfect - sometimes embarrassing but they were in there with their sleeves rolled up - having a go.

3. The banter was lively and fun throughout the job. Lots of friendly jibes. Some of the team were playfully competing to be as quick as they could. There was laughter happening as the work was done. Observations about modern life were shared.

When he arrived, Onofrio was asked where his cup cakes were. In his time on the committee, he has built a reputation as a cup cake master chef. At a later moment I ask him a bit about it.

"I like doing it. It is 'time-out' for me," Onofrio explains.

Adrian offers cups of tea and coffee. He opens a bottle of wine. Judith brings over a plate of really yummy cheese and nibbles.

Job finished and the group relaxes. Serg had got there a bit later. He explained that he had a bit on but still wanted to come. As a few planning matters are discussed, I let Serg know he will be getting a call to help out at the upcoming Father-Son night.

"No need to call, when is it?" asks Serg. He checks his phone diary as I give him the date.

"I'm free” he says, “it's locked in."

So what do you think the headlines are for this good news story?

Primary school girl, reads book uninterrupted for 20

Teenage boy helps group of adults with task – joins in the

Family welcome people into the home. Generous volunteers
complete mail-out and enjoy each others’ company!
Of course, we know this volunteer work party is not the sort of story that CNN, News Limited or the ABC are going for as their number 1 item of the week. But… parents do help their kids develop good habits… teenagers chip in and help others, showing signs that they are on their way to being young adults… people get together and volunteer. These things happen every day… all over the world. And it is good news.

In getting Adrian’s permission to post this story he emailed back his ‘OK’ with this message…

It is funny that the things you mentioned I had never given any thought to. This
is my fourth year in the association and the other night felt like having good
friends around rather than conducting a meeting.
I'm convinced that it is the little efforts like this... these people 'turning up' that: embed the memory for future generations to follow their example. It is this sort of generosity that makes the difference between us living in a society rather than just an economy. To all the volunteers reading this. I salute you!

As always feel free to offer your reflections, your memories and insights in the space below.

Bill Jennings

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Father Bob & the 'YB' have Entered the Building

"So... do you want me to come in with you?" I ask.

The young bloke (aka YB), our #2 child, and #1 son, and I sit this morning in the car park of his new senior high school. He is starting in Year 10 today.

There is a typical pause. It could be his own considered thinking which has always been fairly deliberate or the combination of 15 year-old vagueness mixed with the general vague state he has inherited from his dad.

There is still more think time. Then...

"Nah, I'll be right."

More silence and we sit there looking at the school building.

"So what happens now... I just go to Reception?", YB asks.

"Yeah, I think there will be people there waiting for you like they did on your orientation day, giving out timetables and showing you where to put your stuff."

"OK, see ya dad." A considered handshake is exchanged. I let him know that I am proud to be his dad and he waves without looking back as he takes a heavy, first-day-bag into his new school. The earliest year level at this senior high is his year, so he is starting on an even footing with all the other kids. I sit here wondering how he is going. A lot of people are having first days this week...

Father Bob Maguire had his first full day at his new address yesterday after 38 years at his old one. For the benefit of those in Australia who live in a media black-out, and readers overseas, here is what happened at his last Sunday morning mass as Parish Priest at St Peter and St Paul's in South Melbourne this past weekend.

Father Bob at 77, 'orthodox but unconventional' as he likes to describe himself, has moved on from his parish... the base from which he carried out many services, not just as a traditional parish priest but as the leader of an army of volunteers who serve people who have fallen on hard times. The disenfranchised, the homeless, the prostitutes, the mentally ill, the elderly and disadvantaged young people of South Melbourne, Port Melbourne and St Kilda, rely on the practical outreach of The Father Bob Maguire Foundation. Many of you will know that the controversy of his move, stems from the wish that he did not want to leave his home, his base from which he was able to exercise his ministry. Bob's parish gave him identity. Being a parish priest enabled him to have some handle, a good kind of authority that auspiced his public role and outreach.

Where the hypocrisy of attention by the hierarchy, on Bob's forced retirement, has been widely reported, I have watched from a perspective of concerned comrade, with an awareness that for Bob, he was being symbolically and perhaps psychologically orphaned by his current day 'family', the institutional church - something that had happened to him as a kid. F-Bob's (as this comrade calls him) dad and mum passed away when he was 12 and 13. He fended forward with the help of his older brother and friends and that tough, unconventional perspective must have been formed in that adversity. An endearing resilience that has shown in the last couple of years may well have been borne in those days when a young teenager had to use his wits to make his way in the world, without the security of even one parent being around.

Change is tough and in the lead up to the young bloke's first day at a new school, there's been a bit of moodiness. Unlike Father Bob, he chose to move to a new place. We asked him to have a think about what was the right place for him. He liked his old school (and so did his mum and me) but he felt, on balance the new place offers a number of good opportunities. That doesn't mean the decision wasn’t tough. It doesn't mean his imperfect dad hasn't had a few flare ups as the young bloke has dealt with the decision to change in the last couple of months. We could be in the middle of a heated argument and then I'm struck by the notion - 'he's worried about the move'. Similarly, I heard Father Bob interviewed on the ABC Conversation Hour before Christmas. The anger, near bitterness, that was in his voice was palpable. It was raw and tough to listen to. Other friends' heard it and we shared similar reflections. That's the key though, people have responded and shown their care. Bob has rawly expressed his feelings, his 'truth' throughout, and on Sunday over 1000 people turned up and showed support. They are part of the big family that F-Bob’s unique perspective on life, has brought together. I reckon his own kindness, heart for the underdog, has come back at him in spades. Good people have fuelled his resilience to move on to the next chapter.

I'm mindful, as dad to my daughter and son... that they gain fuel for accepting change through life as people who love them, and care about what happens to them, wish them well as they take on the next challenge - some harder than others. We can't take away the challenges they face but we can turn up in their lives - especially at the important moments.

At his final mass on Sunday, the shift was palpable in Father Bob - he had accepted the change, and was moving on. The service had a bit of everything... Bob's irreverent humour, a beautiful song by war victim and refugee, Emmanuel Kelly - an inspiring young man, a Scottish bagpipe band that led Bob out after the final song 'Glory, Glory Hallelujah' that contains the words... 'the truth goes marching on'.

And what is that 'truth' for this story? Change, difficult shifts, will always happen to us. They will always happen to the people we care about. When they enter their new buildings like Father Bob and the young bloke have this week... that's when they need us to be there for them.

Who has been there for you in a moment of change? Who are you looking after right now? As always, feel free to write your own thoughts below. Thanks for reading.

Bill Jennings