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Vinnies president happy to serve

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A mix up over the bookings for a parish hall was the catalyst for Brad Hocking joining the local Vinnies conference in his mid-20s.

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At the time he was running a Catholic youth group at Seacombe Gardens and he booked the parish hall for a meeting but then discovered it had also been booked by the local Vinnies conference.

The members told Brad they met there every Monday, to which he replied “okay I’ll see you next Monday then”.

Brad said it had always been in the back of his mind that he was living a very comfortable life, and perhaps he should commit to helping people whose lives “aren’t so comfortable”.

It’s a decision that set him on a trajectory to becoming the youngest person to be elected president of the St Vincent de Paul Society SA. The 32-year-old engineer took over the job last month from outgoing president Cathy Beaton.

After joining the conference, Brad started doing home visitations and quickly became treasurer, then responded to a call for members for the Vinnies Homelessness Committee.

Although exposed to the Catholic faith through his girlfriend and now wife Daniella, with whom he attended World Youth Day in Sydney, Brad was raised in a family which was “very atheist”. When he decided to become a Catholic and participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process he had already joined the Vinnies conference.

“I’ve actually been a member of Vinnies longer than I’ve been a Catholic,” he said.

“I had an interesting rise through the faith as I was extremely involved in the Church even before I had gone through RCIA.”

With Daniella and their three young children, Brad is now a member of the St Therese’s Church at Colonel Light Gardens but has continued as treasurer of Seacombe Gardens Vinnies conference

About four years ago he attended the Vinnies National Congress held in Adelaide and “got chatting” with Cathy Beaton. The following week she asked him to be her vice president and for a long time she has been “bugging me” to be her successor, he said.

In July this year he decided to cut back to part-time in his asset management role at Shoal Group to spend more time with his family and volunteering for Vinnies.

“I thought I’ll never get those years back again with my kids and we’re in a pretty comfortable position, my wife and I, so it gives me a bit more flexibility,” he explained.

He wasn’t planning to stand for president which in the past has been a full time role, but he was eventually swayed on the basis he would only spend about two days a week in the voluntary role.

“It’s not something I wanted to do, to be blunt,” he said, “but after lots of reflection it was something I felt called to do. I think it’s a role where I can make a difference, I have a level of confidence that I can do it well given my history and skill set…and I’m in a unique position amongst working people in that I have a very flexible workplace and an extremely supportive family.

“So I guess I think I have the capability to do it and I have the capacity too.”

Brad said he wanted to continue his involvement at a conference level as treasurer and also resume doing home visits so he doesn’t “lose touch with the real work” of the organisation.

While Brad acknowledged the challenges of an ageing membership and declining numbers of people engaged in parish life, he said the opportunities were “huge”.

“I think there’s a lot of different opportunities for people to get involved with Vinnies,” he said.

“I think people will go where they fit best, and it’s the Society’s role to facilitate an environment that welcomes people of any age and background to a variety of roles, ultimately it’s their choice whether they take them up or not.”

“We’ve got Fred’s Van, we’ve got shops, conferences and a whole raft of different works and committees where people can contribute.

“Through Cathy’s presidency she did a lot to set up the organisation in a really strong way, we’ve got a good set of committees, a new CEO and we’ve got a really good platform to launch into a whole range of things.”

He stressed that Vinnies was very much a Catholic organisation: “We don’t shy away from that,” he said, adding he was drawn to the faith for its teaching of “serving Christ in the poor”.

In this respect, Vinnies could be a place where non-Catholics become exposed to the Church and its mission.

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