Vinnies gives social justice a voice


Social Justice in the Club News Story
The forum panel included (from left): Lisa Fowlkes (Job Futures), Prof Peter Howard (Australian Catholic University), Prof George Lafferty (University of Western Sydney), and Claire Boor (Marist Youth Care).

Born from the St Vincent de Paul Society’s commitment to driving social change to benefit all people, the Social Justice in the Club initiative aims to give a voice to the disadvantaged and marginalised, while addressing issues of inequality in Australian society.

The initiative offers people a chance to participate in a series of community discussion forums with a focus on topical issues of social justice.

The events combine local residents and community groups with an expert panel, enabling a balanced approach to addressing possible solutions to common problems faced by many communities across the NSW.

On 11 August 2011, more than 50 people gathered at Blacktown RSL for one of the forums, led by Dr Andy Marks, Senior Researcher with St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

Titled ‘From Hopelessness to Success’, the discussion focused on issues of long-term unemployment. The expert panel included Claire Boor (Marist Youth Care), Prof George Lafferty (University of Western Sydney), Lisa Fowlkes (Job Futures) and Acting Professor Peter Howard (Australian Catholic University).

The event attracted a great mix of Vinnies members, representatives from local charities and community services agencies, local council, and some local residents experiencing unemployment and disadvantage.

Guests discussed the impact of long-term unemployment on the community, the effect of mental health on job prospects, the flaws in the way employment service providers are funded, the stigma of poverty and disadvantage and the role of education in empowering change.

Parramatta Central Council President, James McLaughlin cited education as the key issue, indicating that communities where children are given access to education are more likely to successfully manage the transition into employment.

This theme was taken up enthusiastically by all participants. A high school teacher from a disadvantaged school in Western Sydney described how she and her fellow teachers regularly drove round the community to pick up children who should be in school, as well as providing breakfast for disadvantaged children.

“All of these things are undertaken by teachers voluntarily, it’s about going the extra yards for kids,” she said to loud applause.

Prof Lafferty agreed that more education and training opportunities were a positive step but cautioned that government must ensure that the training provided matched the demands of the local labour market.

Through its Special Works and community programs, the St Vincent de Paul Society witnesses the devastating effects that long-term unemployment can have on families and communities.

Dr Marks said that open discussion forums such as those facilitated by the Social Justice in the Club initiative would help to start grass roots discussion that resulted in positive change.

There was a lively and constructive vibe, with people keen to attach solutions to the problems raised,” he said. “Many contacts were made informally throughout the evening as people realised they had common goals and problems. In fact, the idea that agencies need to better coordinate by networking more effectively was a key outcome.

“These events are critical, as they also renew the spirit of open debate, challenge, reflection and action in the Society.”

Further Social Justice in the Club forums are planned across the state.

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