“She took me on and I’ve never looked back.”

Conference Manager at the Vinnies Centre at Islington, Chris Lloyd-Jones, graciously shared his story of redemption with Aurora.

It’s probably best to begin my story back when I started going downhill.

My wife left me for my best friend. I ended up with two young children to look after. We’d just finished building our home. I was a train driver at Lithgow earning a pretty good wage but unfortunately it was shift work and I couldn’t look after the kids and keep the job. Luckily at the time, redundancy came through so I took it and became a full-time parent. I had a boy aged 7, a girl, 10 and a boy, 16.

The court battles for custody began. I had to sell the house and begin renting. I was very depressed and I started drinking. There was a drug problem as well.

We had to move from Wentworth Falls to Katoomba to a really shabby house and life just kept going downhill. My eldest had moved out by then.  

I had the two younger children and I couldn’t look after them anymore.

They went back to their mother and drugs really began to take hold. I had no money because of my dependency.

I was evicted because I couldn’t pay the rent so I became homeless. I lived on the street in Katoomba, in abandoned buildings under tarps and so on. I went to Vinnies for food vouchers and clothing. At one stage I was pushing trolleys, and I would sleep in the car I had to travel to the carparks.

There were hopeless times. I remember being in the bush with two bags, one for my head, one for my feet, and a bottle of vodka to keep me warm. I just didn’t want to wake up in the morning.

I overdosed on heroin once and luckily my friends in the street came across me and called the ambulance.

I was killing myself really, but then I somehow went to rehab at Rozelle for 13 months. The place was called WHOS, ‘We Help OurSelves’.

When I came out of WHOS, my daughter offered me a place with her and her boyfriend. The children had stayed in touch with me and it was good to feel wanted.

However, the mistake I made was going back to Katoomba. One of the things we learned in WHOS was ‘don’t go back to trigger places’. I was sure it wasn’t going to happen to me but it did. Her boyfriend had a drug habit so that wasn’t good for me and I went backwards.

My older son was living in Newcastle and he offered me a room. I still had a drinking problem and my son was concerned. “Why don’t you go out and do something?”

So I walked down the street at Islington and saw Vinnies. I said to Evelyn (Conference President), “I’d like to volunteer.” That was about five years ago. She took me on and I’ve never looked back.  

I still had a drinking problem – I had to go back to rehab and detox, clean up my act.

I’ve gone from being a volunteer to Conference Manager. Because Vinnies gave me so much at Katoomba, I wanted to give back. I want to do what I can do.

Now instead of wanting, I feel I am wanted.

We always need volunteers here at Vinnies ‒ we’re really desperate at the moment. It’s part of my role to work out the truck routes so that they deliver first and then pick up, for obvious reasons. People with furniture to donate don’t always understand that we don’t have a truck on standby. Furniture’s in demand though so it’s great when people call us.

Vinnies keeps donated sleeping bags and we hand them over to those who need them. I’ll offer a sandwich and a cuppa. Having been where they are now, I know that you can’t really help people until they help themselves.

I still like to have a drink but it doesn’t control me, and at the end of the week, I have money in my pocket.

I have five grandkids with the sixth coming through ‒ life is tremendous!

The volunteers here ‒ they’re not workers, they’re a family and we look out for each other. We try to have as much fun as we can and I know a lot of customers by name.

I remember a couple who came in, looking for a mattress. They had a child and they were living in their car while they waited for a house to become available. About six months later they came back to let us know they had a house and “we’re doing well now”. It’s great when you get that feedback.

Visit your local Vinnies centre to volunteer, to learn about your local conference, to donate clothing, furniture, books, DVDs etc in reasonable condition or to pick up a bargain! Please visit Vinnies or P 4961 6885.

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