DON Gore, like other Vinnies volunteers, has helped many people who’ve hit rock bottom but he also knows what it’s like on the other side – he’s been down and out himself.
Heading toward the end of a successful business career he was the state manager of a Queensland company when everything changed.
Depression struck, and stopped him in his tracks.
“When I got sick in the ’90s, I couldn’t work for two years and that took a huge toll on my family – using up our savings and superannuation, so it was a big thing,” the 76-year-old Vincentian in Albany Creek parish said.
“And at that time we (he and his wife Jill) had some spiritual support – and financial, which I’ve since paid back.
“But I’ve never forgotten that and I always have in mind that I want to give back.
“I’ve had a good life and I want to help other people have a good life too.”
Don said he “lost” his faith through that tough time, “because I was blaming Him (God)”.
“And it took me a while to realise that it wasn’t Him, and now I’ve got my faith back,” he said. “And now I want to give back.”
He’s well and truly “given back” by throwing himself wholeheartedly into helping others with the St Vincent de Paul Society – so much so that he was a national finalist for Volunteer of the Year in the 2019 Third Sector Awards for not-for-profit organisations.
His nomination was especially for his efforts with Vinnies in “managing and developing supports for women and children escaping domestic violence and families facing poverty”.
Don leads the St Vincent de Paul Society’s diocesan Housing and Homeless Committee in Brisbane, and a major focus has been a pioneer project supporting survivors of domestic violence and their families.
“I didn’t win (the award), but that didn’t matter; that wasn’t the point,” Don said.
“The main thing is that I was very proud to be recognised for the work I’d put into our program.
“And I was appreciative too … It wasn’t just me; it was all my colleagues in the (St Vincent de Paul Society) conference and in the Vinnies society in Queensland, and the diocesan council.
“It was an honour and it was good, but you don’t do it for recognition.”
With more time on his hands after retiring, Don decided to start “giving back” by joining the Vinnies conference in his parish and then it wasn’t long before he found himself in the president’s chair.
What he was seeing in those early years with Vinnies steered him into paying closer attention to the victims of domestic violence.
“It was in this time that … I saw a lot of victims through our conference that came out of the refuge or they came up from other states and settled here, but they were never safe,” Don said.
“They were always running from the perpetrator, and it occurred to me then that we have a role to play in trying to give these women a better start.
“So, through our Vinnies Housing program, we ended up purchasing six properties which were totally supported by a case manager and were managed by Vinnies Housing.
“We currently have all of those occupied, and the numbers of children vary from a family of two to a family of seven children, and it’s very rewarding – at the same time, very challenging.”
Added to that, the State Government has allocated six reclaimed houses on the southside of Brisbane and three on the northside for Vinnies to use as transitional housing for families adjusting after escaping domestic violence.
“We’ve got Vinnies Housing, which look after the properties, and we’ve got a support case management provider,” Don said.
“Then we’ve got St Rita’s of Cascia which is a special-works program that we started because we needed the Vincentian involvement to be with that family continuously through their stay with us – through their program – and, with that, we support them with material and financial assistance where needed and we also provide them with pastoral care.
“The whole aim is to, first of all, make sure the mums are well and healthy, so that she can then look after the children who are also traumatised by this …
“The support worker does work with both but we need to ensure that the children get the education and … try and show them that life’s good, and what they’ve seen, and been through, is not the norm.
“The goal for the program (is) we assist (the mothers) to get to the stage where they can move out into the private rental market or, if need be, the ones that are not in a position to go to work, try and get them into community housing.
“And it’s making sure that they understand that they’re loved, that the families are loved when they come into our program.”
Witnessing domestic violence at its worst convinced Don of the need for such a program.
“I came across a case where the perpetrator actually sexually assaulted the mother (of the children) and … and I thought, ‘This is wrong; we’ve got to have more safe places for these people to go to once they come out of the refuge, so there’s got to be more options to the refuge to be able to move the people from there into another safe, transitional property and get that support until they could become self-sustainable’,” he said.
It took five years for the Housing and Homeless Committee to achieve that, with the help of “some kind donations from religious orders to assist us with buying houses, as well as (funding) from our state council”.
Being involved in Vinnies has had an “enormous” impact on Don’s faith.
“You’re forever building up in your faith,” he said.
“That’s what the society is about, too – it’s building our spirituality and our faith through the work that we do.
“Through what we’re doing you’re forever looking at parts of the Bible where Jesus is talking about what we should be doing for our neighbours, particularly those who are poor, and you draw on that.
“You’re forever drawing on it but you’re trying to bring it into the 21st century.
“It’s taking what you hear in the Scriptures every week, or every day, … and you look for ways that you might be able to put what was put forward in the Scriptures into what you’re doing today.”
Today Don sees a stark reality for that challenge.
“What keeps me going is that you keep hearing the reports of women being killed and children being killed …,” he said.
“The ones we don’t hear a lot about is the parents and grandparents that are being harmed because the perpetrator has taken it out on them because they feel they’ve influenced the woman.
“So there’s all those elements … and it’s a daily occurrence it just keeps going … Every day, I guess, it’s somebody, somewhere …”