Dan and Rupert
I was at work yesterday afternoon when colleagues in the fundraising team gathered a bunch of us into a room. Between October and December, these guys need to raise about $1 million from the Christmas appeal. I don’t envy the job of a fundraiser.
They had 3 different stories to choose from this Christmas. As they went through each one, I felt decidedly underwhelmed. Each of us outsiders was asked to ‘vote’ on which was the best. When it came to my turn I said: ‘I think that one but to be honest I’m not impressed by anyone of them’ (Typical me – always known to call a spade a spade.)
Work over, I packed up Rupert (the sock puppet I’ve been caretaking) and walked up into Surry Hills for politics at the pub. Dan from the Missionbeat service was due to speak. (Missionbeat is an outreach service for Sydney’s homeless and rough sleepers. You’ll see what I mean by that in a second).
During Dan’s talk he gave this one example of how services help people each day. (Recalled here to the best of my ability)
“I work with people who are homeless every day. Recently, I saw a guy in the street with a bag over his head. I approached him and asked him ‘what’s with the bag?’ expecting him to say he was trying to keep the rain off or stay warm. Instead he said he was going to kill himself. I said ‘Well, I’ve got news for you. Not tonight, you’re not.”
Dan stayed with that man – talked to him – and most of all listened to his story. He gave examples of people he had met on the streets who were better off today because of the services provided: not just by Mission Australia but by many Not For Profit Organisations.
If you’re started to think this is a plug for my employer, well that wasn’t my intent. It is really just another blog piece about my world and the thoughts flying around my head.
I’ve never been a frontline service provider for people who are homeless or disadvantaged. However, years ago I worked in frontline customer service for Royal Blind Society. It was often very routine – lots of paperwork – yet it had it’s moments when it was both inspiring and rewarding. I’ll give you one such example.
7 years have passed but I still remember the phone call I took from the grandmother of a little boy I will call “John Henry”. The phone call came in at 5 minutes to 5. As the grandmother started to talk about her grandson, who was not yet 1 year old, I realised that it would be far better if a counsellor could take this call. However on that day and at that time there was no counsellor. So I stayed on the phone with her listening to what she had to say for the next 30 – 40 minutes. John Henry she told me was a delightful little boy. As she talked I created a picture in my head of a delightfully cheeky little boy. I remember thinking why does she keep calling him by his first and middle name. (Both of which I have changed here). As we were chatting I asked her. She said that her husband was John and everyone in the family had taken to calling the little one John Henry to differientiate between the two.
John Henry’s mum had been assaulted while she was pregnant. As a result of the beating she received, John Henry’s retinas were detached causing blindness. I asked whether he had any other disabilities or significant medical conditions to which the grandmother was insistent he did not. I did what I was tasked to do – capture all her details; listen and explain what would happen now in terms of service. I told her I’d organise for a worker from our children’s services to visit them.
Next day I spoke to Dianne in Children’s Services. I told her the blindness was caused from detached retinas whilst in utero. Dianne read my referral notes and looked at me. In her gentle way she said to me, Lysh you do know the chances of him not having another disability like an intellectual disability are low? I said I realised that however told her how insistent the grandmother had been that apart from his eyes, he had no other difficulties.
A number of months later, Dianne approached me one day and said do you remember John Henry? Of course I did. It was one of those calls you don’t forget in a hurry. Dianne beamed – he’s 15 months and he’s walking. That’s brilliant for a child who is blind. I got a little teary at this news – how excited was I! Now you may think that’s not a great achievement. I assure you it is. Children are motivated to crawl and walk partly by trying to reach for toys and objects. A sighted child will pull and push him or herself towards something they wish to investigate. Children with no sight or low vision need to be assisted – encouraged – to do what children do naturally. And I’m delighted to say that Dianne affirmed what John Henry’s grandmother had said – his only disability with his lack of sight.
On the way home last night I thought about some of those memorable moments I had when I worked for Royal Blind Society. I reflected on the Missionbeat video Dan had showed which featured a number of Sydney’s homeless people telling their story and how much they appreciated the service. Then I remembered how underwhelmed I was by the story our fundraisers may use this Christmas.
Sometimes people – including fundraisers – are pushed and pulled by marketers and brand experts. In their efforts to convey how we help people something gets lost.
What is more compelling than hearing a man had reached such a low point in his life, he no longer wanted to live and that at that moment, Daniel was able to hear him and help him. To me, that is inspiring.