October 16, 2018

Special students making a difference

Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Every night in Sydney more than 1000 people are homeless, many of them sleeping on the street. Supporting those who have fallen on hard times is a very special group of students volunteering their time and compassion.

The dedicated teenagers from St Mary’s Cathedral College give up their time twice a week to volunteer at the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo, which offers food and accommodation for the growing number of Sydney’s homeless who find themselves without a roof over their head.

Affectionately known as “Talbot-eers”, the students carry out various duties including setting tables and cleaning up after lunchtime meals, staffing the subsidised canteen or just lending an understanding ear to someone wanting to have a chat.

And just as importantly the students are gaining an understanding that while good fortune is not just a product of hard work, but sometimes luck, so too, misfortune can often be the product of bad luck.

The Matthew Talbot Hostel is just one of the many Church agencies taking up the call to serve the homeless. Others include CatholicCare, the Capuchin Friars and the St Vincent de Paul Society, which this week hosts the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.

Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers is one of around 350 participants in the Sydney event, and hopes his involvement will draw attention to the plight of those sleeping rough and the agencies like Matthew Talbot who are there to pick up the pieces.

Cathedral school teacher Ed Hawkins, who has been accompanying the students to Matt Talbot for over 10 years, said they get just as much out of their volunteering as the men they help. He said they learn about the importance of dignity and that everybody deserves to be treated with respect no matter where they are from or how they look.

And while it’s not clear whether the students initially volunteer at the hostel out of curiosity, to avoid sport or to genuinely help those in need, he said there’s no doubt they come back time and time again because they know what they are doing is making a real difference.

He said despite the sad and sometimes desperate stories of those utilising the service, there’s no shortage of a laugh. The men enjoy playing pranks on any new volunteers by asking for a beer with their meal, a second helping or a song to serenade them as they eat.

Year 11 student Ambrose O’Riain has been volunteering for a few months and said the only downside is that their shifts are so short.

He said he really enjoys spending time with the men and knowing that their small sacrifice makes a huge difference to those in need.

Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“I do it because it matters, hearing the gratitude from the gentlemen means so much to me,” he said,

“They are so polite, kind and pleasant, it humanises this group which I would very rarely interact with. People in situations such as these are often victims of choices many people make, like following friends or people you respect, without realising just how harmful decisions can be.

“Volunteering has taught me the importance of independence of thought and self-analysis of my own actions as well as others before I follow through with them. Doing what I think is right rather than succumbing to peer pressure.”

Established over 50 years ago, the Matthew Talbot Hostel provides 620 hot meals and 94 beds daily for men over the age of 21 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Situated in the heart of the city, it provides services including nutritious food, clothing, showers, basic medical, legal and housing support, counselling and advocacy as well as a welcoming environment for people who no longer have the warm embrace of a family.

Matthew Talbot volunteer coordinator Marty Nezval said the school’s support not only assists those in need but is a great way for the students to see what life on the street is like and how much the boys take for granted in their own lives.

“St Mary’s Cathedral College has a long association of serving at Matthew Talbot Hostel which we are very appreciative of,” he said.

“Their voluntary work helps all of our clients who are generally long-term institutionalised, homeless men, often with dual diagnoses of drug and alcohol addictions and psychiatric conditions.

“While the work for the students is quite menial it also allows our clients to engage with them in a safe and caring environment.

“Basically it’s great for the students to experience what happens here and see that what we do carries a simple message of God’s love.

If you would like to support Bishop Richard Umbers donate at https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/fundrai…/richardumbers/sydney

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