“Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came”
We can all relate to these lyrics of the theme song from the popular TV series Cheers. Sadly, some people don’t have a safe, friendly place to turn to. Fortunately, many people in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains have found that Catholic Care Drop-In Centres become a second home, and somewhere they can turn to for assistance.
Catholic Care Manager, Community Engagement Celia Vagg explains how four centres located within the Diocese of Parramatta are a lifeline for those who are lonely and isolated. Often people just have a hard time connecting with others.
“They’re safe places where people can come and connect with us and our volunteers,” she said.
Celia emphasises that everyone is welcomed and treated with dignity and respect.
“Our overarching organisational value is ‘we embrace every journey with gratitude and love’,” she said.
Aboriginal Catholic Services stay with people through the hard times
Having a history of drug and alcohol abuse, mental trauma, homelessness and a criminal record, Katie’s* life had spiralled out of control. Somehow, she found the strength to reach out for help, turning to Catholic Care’s Aboriginal Catholic Services (ACS) in Emerton.
“I had to change my life around, and they have been there for me every single day,” she said.
“Without that support, and knowing my needs, I probably would have tripped up by now. They never left me; they have stuck through it all with me. They have done an amazing job.”
ACS, which began in Penrith in 1997 and moved to the Mt Druitt area in 2011, helps hundreds of people a year in one of the lowest socio-economic areas of Sydney and home to the largest Indigenous populations in Australia.
Many of Catholic Care’s services including individual, family, financial and problem gambling counselling, are offered at the Emerton centre. It hosts ‘yarning circles’ (meetings for sharing) for the local community and young mothers’ groups.
Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) Coordinator Linda McDonald, a Gundungurra woman, said that it is important for the centre to have Indigenous people employed at ACS and involved in the programs they run for the local community.
“As an organisation, we are here for Aboriginal people to feel like it is a comfortable place to come and share their stories, life and to feel that they are not ostracised, but accepted,” she said.
Aboriginal elder Aunty Janice Kennedy, a Gumbainggir woman who works at ACS, explained “ACS is a welcoming place, and you feel a warm atmosphere when you come in.”
All Saints of Africa Centre warmly welcomes all
Next door to St Patrick’s Church in Blacktown is the All Saints of Africa Centre, which has been helping African migrants and refugees in Western Sydney for almost 10 years.
The All Saints of Africa drop-in centre runs support groups for mothers, helps children with their homework, offers language support and referrals to other services. Local universities, teaching colleges and other organisations utilise the centre to connect with the community.
During COVID, the Centre was forced to stop its playgroups and homework clubs for students, but remained open for their individual clients’ needs.
Catholic Care Family Support Worker Rafa Godo explained that she would get clients’ information, and would speak to them over the phone whilst they sat in their car. “We couldn’t say no to them during COVID,” she said.
Rafa says her work in Blacktown is about embracing people of all backgrounds and supporting them through sometimes difficult and dark times.
“Because the drop-in centre is close to the church, people know that they are safe, and are warmly welcomed.
“When our clients are here, we sit and have a chat and build up that trust with them. We try and tend to their problems straight away, and if there is more that needs to be done, they feel it has been solved because we talked with them.
“It feels great to be able to help anyone, no matter if they are young or old. Everyone is treated as a human being.”
Springwood Drop-In Centre provides entry to other services
The Springwood Drop-In Centre was set up in 2014 following the 2013 bushfires that ravaged parts of the Blue Mountains. After initially providing on-the-ground support to the families impacted by the fires, the Drop-In Centre has adapted to the changing needs of the community with a focus on mental health and social connection programs.
“The original focus was to reconnect people with each other and to have what I call soft entry into support services like counselling or financial counselling,” Celia explained.
“The Drop-In Centre is based on that soft entry approach – anyone can come in, they can have a cup of tea and a chat. There are volunteers who will welcome people and have time to actually sit down and talk to people, to find out what services they need, but also to have a chat if they just want to connect with someone.”
Catholic Care volunteer Sean Moylan offers his skills and knowledge as a digital mentor, helping older residents of the Blue Mountains become tech savvy.
“Some of my clients come in and know very little about technology, and they are realising that they have to adapt to the changing times, as some government agencies are mostly based online,” he said. He adds how technology has helped clients stay in touch with their families during lockdown.
Growing our community support
Looking ahead to the future, Celia describes how Catholic Care hopes to grow their services. They plan to convert their Mamre House and Farm in Orchard Hills into another Drop-In Centre after consultation with the local community.
“Every person comes in with a different background, a different story, and a different reason why they struggle or have challenges. And we can make the time to be there for them.
“We’re privileged to be able to do that, and it’s only through generous community donations and volunteer support that this is possible.
“When Catholic Care started in Springwood, we said to the community ‘we’re not going anywhere’ and I think that made a huge difference to people and their attitudes towards us.
“We are still here and we’ll keep supporting and doing what we can for the community.”
With your gift to the Bishop’s Good Samaritan Appeal, we can provide welcoming places for people across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to come for support, information, acceptance, or simply to connect with others.
To donate, please call (02) 8838 3482 or visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal-neighbours
If you’d like to volunteer and help Catholic Care support lonely and isolated seniors, please call Celia Vagg – Manager, Community Engagement on (02) 8843 2500 or email email@example.com
*Name changed to protect privacy