News

Catholic Social Services Award Winners Recognised for Excellence in Service & Innovation

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
24 Oct 2014

Trudy McNamara (Left) CatholicCare Wollongong & Robyn Mitchell (right) CatholicCare Sydney, who accepted the Norma Parker Award for Most Innovative Program at the CSSA Annual Awards

The 12th Annual Catholic Social Services Australia Awards were announced on Tuesday evening at Parliament House, Canberra in the presence of Senators and Members of Federal Parliament.

Catholic Social Services Australia is the Catholic Church's peak national body for social service agencies across the country. For over 50 years it has assisted its member agencies to promote a fairer, more inclusive society that reflects and supports the dignity, equality and participation for all people.

The Catholic Social Services Australia Awards pay tribute to the outstanding programmes, organisations and people, who work tirelessly and often quietly for a better life for vulnerable people within our communities.

This year's award winners include CatholicCare Sydney, CatholicCare Wollongong, the Waranara Centre (established by Rosemount Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services), Centacare Community Services Brisbane's Vintage Voices Choir, as well as individual recognition for Margaret Pirotta, Coordinator of CatholicCare Sydney's Tree of Hope program, and Tomasa Morales, the Team Leader for CatholicCare Melbourne's Refugee Settlement Program.

Most Innovative Program

CatholicCare Sydney and CatholicCare Wollongong were announced as the joint winners of the Norma Parker Award for Most Innovative Program for "My Kids and Me" at this year's Catholic Social Services Australia Awards.

My Kids and Me is a unique seven-week program offering therapeutic and educational assistance to parents, whose children have been removed and placed in out-of-home care, with the aim of building and maintaining connections and positive relationships with their children. The program was jointly established, and continues to be conducted, by CatholicCare Sydney and CatholicCare Wollongong

Unlike many parent education programs where parents are learning how to improve on their parenting skills, My Kids and Me is tailored to the needs of parents who are not living with their child/children. It allows parents to share, in a non-judgemental setting, the experience of having their child/children removed, understand the reasons as to why the child/children might have been removed, and to come to terms with the real possibly that restoration may not be an option.

Robyn Mitchell (left) from CatholicCare Sydney being presented with the Merit Award in the Norma Parker Award category for Most Innovative Program

This program is true early intervention. Not only does it work with the parents to acknowledge the loss of this particular child, but it assists them in recognising changes that may need to be made in their parenting of future children.

Judges for the Catholic Social Services Australia Award commended the fact that My Kids and Me is addressing a very significant need in the community. "This is a difficult area to work in but addresses a clear gap with an innovative approach," noted the judges. "Not only does it work with the parents to acknowledge the loss of this particular child, but it assists them in recognising changes that may need to be made in their parenting of future children".

In addition, CatholicCare Sydney's "Multi Mix Mob" program was recognised with a Merit Award in the Norma Parker Award category for Most Innovative Program. The Multi Mix Mob is first and foremost a playgroup providing a safe and welcoming place for Indigenous families to meet. It has grown to become known for its music after CatholicCare Sydney's Luke Edwards, Coordinator of The Bridge program, was invited to teach the group how to play the guitar.

Since then, the Multi Mix Mob has used music and their personal experiences to bring strength and harmony to communities around Australia and the world.

The Multi Mix Mob guitar mob comprises five Indigenous women who, with CatholicCare's support, use music and other means to spread a powerful and positive message to communities affected by social issues like domestic violence, and alcohol and other drug addictions.

Catholic Social Services Australia's Award judges acknowledged the important role that women have in Aboriginal communities and the way in which the Multi Mix Mob program has empowered them to find their voices.

Excellence in Service by an Organisation

Lyn Harrison from Rosemount Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services

Centacare Community Services Brisbane's Vintage Voices Choir was announced as the winner of Award for Excellence in Service by an Organisation.

The choir, with 60 members, offers a chance for older people to participate in the arts and cultural events as active community members rather than being 'passively entertained'. It provides an opportunity for public performance which generates positive acknowledgement for choir members. Choir members enjoy a positive and healthy activity that is cognitively challenging in a stimulating and socially-inclusive setting and the opportunity for social interaction with their peers.

The choir also provides opportunities for professional music teachers to develop and expand the delivery of singing programs in the community and further plans to include university placement opportunities for choral directors are currently being explored.

The choir under the skilful direction of conductor Dr Debra Shearer Dirié has grown in confidence and numbers and recently celebrated its fourth birthday.

Catholic Social Services Australia Award judges were impressed with how the choir enables the elderly to remain connected providing social networks which have significant benefits for the mental health and wellbeing of participants. "It is well established and reaches out to many isolated elderly people in the community," said the judges. "The program has its own momentum and is grounded in the local community. After all we are an ageing population and this program recognises that and responds creatively to embrace ageing in a positive way, recognising the contribution that our elders make to the whole community."

Anne Marie Corbett (Left) and Jennifer Clark (Right) from CentaCare Brisbane

A Merit Award for Organisational Service Excellence was also awarded to the Waranara Centre, which was established by Rosemount Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services.

Good Shepherd has created an alternative education program to provide support for young people at risk of disengagement from education and training. Social and familial issues including mental health issues, family breakdown, transience, behavioural problems and victimisation mean that some young people struggle to engage with mainstream education and training.

Good Shepherd believes that all young people have a right to access educational opportunities within a context that is responsive to their individual life circumstances and personal attributes. The Waranara Centre was created in response to this belief.

Catholic Social Services Australia Award judges recognised the vital role that education plays in the lives of young people, affording them a strong foundation from which to begin adult life. "This program assists not only young people but their families as well," said the judges. "The programme has demonstrated the significant impact created in the lives of young people by developing an education environment that is sensitive to their needs. Mental health and other social issues are increasingly prevalent among young people, and we need to be creative in responding to these needs."

Excellence in Service by an Individual

Margaret Pirotta, the Coordinator of CatholicCare Sydney's Tree of Hope program, was announced as the 2014 Catholic Social Services Australia Award winner of the Perkins Award for Excellence in Service by an Individual.

Across Sydney, Tree of Hope provides emotional and practical outreach support to people living with HIV, their family and supporters.

Margaret Pirotta has worked to ensure that Tree of Hope, based in Lewisham in Sydney with outreach in Surry Hills, provides a confidential, non-judgemental environment for people living with HIV, their family and support person, to connect with other people who understand the challenges and issues they experience.

"The Tree of Hope is a place of hospitality and welcome," said Margaret. "It offers a space for reflection, support and friendship, which is vital in a life often marked by isolation and loneliness."

Margaret Pirotta from CatholicCare Sydney, winner of the 2014 Perkins Award for Excellence in Service by an Individual

Founded in 1996 by Sr Margaret Mines RSC, Tree of Hope draws on the support of CatholicCare Sydney and the Archdiocese of Sydney.

In accepting the award, Margaret spoke warmly of what it will mean to the volunteers and clients of Tree of Hope. "I know how acknowledged they will feel in receiving this Award. They've often said that it was the Catholics who were among the first to help in the AIDS epidemic - and Sr Margaret certainly was a pioneer in that area," said Margaret.

Margaret said that while there has been dramatic scientific advancement, sadly the same cannot be said for the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS experience. "The attitudes of many at a global level have remained somewhere between archaic and ignorance.

"This Award of recognition by Catholic Social Services Australia is an encouraging step toward affirming people living with the virus, and reducing stigma and discrimination, therefore bringing about change," said Margaret.

"The space at Tree of Hope has become like a family. We are not meant to be alone, we are meant to be in community, and this space provides that."

Tomasa Morales, the Team Leader for CatholicCare Melbourne's Refugee Settlement Program in Dandenong was also acknowledged with a Merit Award for Excellence in Service by an Individual.

The Refugee Settlement Program equips people who are new to Australia as refugee and humanitarian entrants with the social and life skills necessary for successful integration and settlement in the community.

For over three years Tomasa has provided a leadership role at the Refugee Settlement Program. Over and above her exceptional leadership, Tomasa brings something extra: the depth of understanding and empathy gained through her own experience as a refugee.

Tomasa recently shared her story at CatholicCare's International Women's Day event, telling of her life as a child in El Salvador, the war from which she fled, how she sought asylum in Honduras, to her arrival in Australia as a refugee. Her journey is compelling and confronting.

Tomasa Morales (Left) CatholicCare Melbourne with Christine Milne (Right) Australian Greens Leader and Senator for Tasmania

It is through her understanding and shared experience that Tomasa offers hope and support to those who have experienced a similar journey, fleeing their homeland to come to Australia seeking a new life.

Among her clients are former Unaccompanied Minors who are now 18 and struggling to secure suitable housing with minimal financial support. Other people that Tomasa supports have arrived in Australia as 'Women at Risk'. Tomasa helps them all to navigate their way to a better future.

Tomasa's service is exemplary not only to the families she supports, but also to the colleagues with whom she works.

Catholic Social Services Australia award judges said that Tomasa is a fantastic example of someone using their own experiences to help others. "Besides our Indigenous brothers and sisters, every Australian has come from somewhere else, though we often forget this," noted the judges. "Tomasa though has not forgotten her past and builds on her heritage and experiences to assist others through the Refugee Support Program."