The core group of 10 members is now meeting regularly at Vinnies headquarters, Ozanam House, and is drawing inspiration from 20-year-old Frederic Ozanam, who founded the St Vincent de Paul Society in 1833.
One of the first events staged by the conference was a forum held during Anti-Poverty Week last year, where guest speakers described the challenges facing young people to engage with education and ‘general life’ when struggling with poverty.
This year the Vinnies youth conference is focusing on two main areas – finding ways to get more young people aged 18-35 to volunteer with the Society; and looking at ways to increase outreach to young people needing Vinnies services.
Hannah Yates, who is a youth representative on Vinnies State Council, and her sister Mary said they joined the conference as a way of supporting young people in the northern suburbs.
“We grew up with our parents running Fred’s Van in Elizabeth and it was hard going through high school and seeing my friends either being homeless or their family struggling with food and clothing,” Mary said.
“It’s quite rewarding now to be able to support my friends through my involvement with Vinnies. I can tell them where they can go if they need assistance and I feel like I’m making a difference. It feels very connected for me.”
Hannah added while it could be overwhelming for young people seeing all the “negative things” about the state of the world on social media, by volunteering with Vinnies they were able to “physically do something” and “focus on social justice issues”.
“Often we find school students and older people think Vinnies is just Fred’s Van and Op shops. We want them to know there are so many ways they can volunteer, and the services they can access,” Hannah said.
“We are definitely seeing growing demand from young people and we just have to work out how we can best be there for them. The biggest need is housing, but also accessing food and clothing so they can be warm during winter.
“A lot of the time we are finding that by having a chat we are providing much needed emotional support…and we’re having different conversations with them because we’re similar in age. That’s helping young people to open up about their circumstances and needs because they are talking to someone their age.”
In addition to supporting young people by directing them to Vinnies services, members of the youth conference are assisting other conferences around the State.
Member Maddi Papantoniou said they were helping the Adelaide conference with home visits, as well undertaking phone calls and setting up appointments with companions for the northern and southern conferences.
“We’ve been really welcomed by the more experienced members of the conferences…and we’re learning from their knowledge and expertise,” she said.
“One of things that is empowering about being involved in the youth conference is having the opportunity to be advocates for young people and how powerful all our voices can be if we pool them together. In an organisation like Vinnies we really do have the scope to make incredible changes and improve the lives of young people who are doing it tough or even living rough.”
Abbey Hilton, who attended Nazareth Catholic College and found out about the youth conference through fellow graduate Kylan Beech, said the time commitment of members was entirely dependent on their circumstances.
“You can dedicate whatever time you have available – it might be just an hour making phone calls – because the group understands that young people are busy juggling jobs and study,” she said.
“Everyone is enjoying that we offer a fresh new perspective for Vinnies and how we are reaching out to the younger community.”
A major part of the group’s activities is raising awareness through school visits and speaking at Vinnies sleepouts.
“Hopefully this will result in other youth conferences being established in metropolitan and regional areas in the future,” Hannah said.
For more information about the Vinnies Youth Conference, contact Vinnies Youth and Community Engagement officer Umes Acharya, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 8112 8716.Jump to next article