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Engaging the social justice leaders of tomorrow

Jesuit Social Services’ Schools and Community Engagement program encourages high school students to become more aware and active in social justice through volunteering.

Beginning in 2014 and continuing throughout COVID-19 lockdown, St Ignatius’ College Riverview, St Aloysius’ College Milsons Point and Catholic schools across Sydney have organised food drives for Jesuit Social Services’ Ignite Food Store – which relies on food donations to provide high-quality, low-cost groceries to residents in Emerton, one of New South Wales’ most disadvantaged areas.

Schools in the program are also invited to volunteer on-site – sorting or stacking groceries at the Store, digging and weeding at the community garden, or participating in basketball workshops with the local primary school students, either for a day, three days, or a week.

St Luke’s Catholic College Marsden Park and Jesuit Social Services staff member, Aaron, during a food drive in early 2022.

The program helps students and staff to strengthen and deepen their understanding of Western Sydney and the experiences and struggles that many of the communities grapple with every day. Jesuit Social Services’ Western Sydney team says the experience affects both staff and students.

One school staff member who volunteered in the program told us: “Volunteering at the site today has granted me a deeper insight into the struggles of people who are marginalised, and I will aim to be more respectful and caring”.

A student volunteer said, “I am grateful for this service experience because it has taught me about the trauma that some children and young people have experienced and yet still pull through.”

A central feature of the program is that students and staff are invited to reflect: to be still and contemplate why they come to the site and why there is a need for a food store in Western Sydney. Then they get to work and begin to see and hear the life and community experiences of Emerton residents.

“The experience has taught me many qualities that I feel will help me to shape a better future for my life.”

Students from Penola Catholic College hosted their seventh annual Ignite Food Drive in May 2022. Students and staff have been donating each day since the beginning of the term.

At the end of their time, students are invited to reflect on what they will do differently following time spent with staff, volunteers and community members. Here are a few more reflections from students and staff:

“This week of service has helped me to feel that I have grown as a young man.” – Year 12 student

“The experience has taught me many qualities that I feel will help me to shape a better future for my life.” – Year 10 student

“I definitely would like to take part in similar acts of service in the future.” – Year 11 student

Our work with schools includes Victorian Catholic and Jesuit Schools. Most recently, more than 200 Year 9 students from Xavier College were invited to spend a day learning about Jesuit Social Services’ history and our broad range of work.

“Volunteering at the site today has granted me a deeper insight into the struggles of people who are marginalised, and I will aim to be more respectful and caring.”

Across two locations, students heard from a range of Jesuit Social Services’ program areas including The Men’s Project, Navigator, Artful Dodgers Studios and the Ecological Justice Hub.

Students also learned about our specific approach to advocacy informed by our Jesuit heritage, the importance of providing a platform for people with lived experience to share their stories and our campaign work-Worth A Second Chance – a campaign to deliver an effective youth justice system that helps children and young people get their lives back on track after contact with the criminal justice system.

If you would like to find out more about our school and community engagement opportunities, please contact Claire Thomas at Claire.Thomas@jss.org.au.

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