Mini advocates socially aware

Three decades after St Vincent de Paul first established Mini Vinnies in conjunction with the Catholic Schools Office in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, the program continues to gain traction.

Primary schools across the nation embrace it and engagement rates continue to climb. 

Since its humble beginnings in 1990, the primary school program, which promotes community-mindedness, has developed legions of passionate student advocates who have gone on to become leaders in social justice.

Clare Van Doorn is the Regional Director of the North East division of St Vincent de Paul and says the organisation deeply values the connection it is able to make with students through Mini Vinnies.

“One of the many benefits to come from Mini Vinnies is the generous donations we receive from school communities, to support those in need,” said Ms Van Doorn.

“However, equally important if not more so, is the program’s power to engage students in understanding the needs of others and helping them to become more socially aware citizens.”

Ms Van Doorn believes this sharing of knowledge will help build a more equitable future, which relishes Christian values.

“St Vincent de Paul seeks to support young people to learn more about injustices in Australian society and help build their skills as advocates and leaders, to create a more just and compassionate community,” Ms Van Doorn said.

In the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, 41 schools facilitate the Mini Vinnies program, providing interested students with the opportunity to take the lead on social justice initiatives within their community.

Ordinarily, students and staff from participating schools voluntarily elect to be involved in the program at the beginning of the school year. In doing so, they commit to regular catch-ups to discuss social justice issues including overseas aid, homelessness, charity and poverty.

The students are then empowered to promote the causes they are passionate about, both within their school community and beyond.

Sonya Boslem is the Principal of St Francis Xavier’s Primary School in Belmont where students have embraced the Mini Vinnies program and work in close partnership with the local St Vincent de Paul chapter to enact their initiatives.

Since 2018, students involved in the school’s Mini Vinnies group have led various initiatives including blanket and clothing drives, as well as Christmas hamper appeals and collecting gold coin donations for the homeless.

“Mini Vinnies provides a great opportunity for children to put all their learning and understanding of Catholic faith into action,” Ms Boslem said. “The program is designed in a way that even our youngest students can understand how they are actively involved in working towards making a difference in the lives of others.

“It also helps to reinforce that their contributions, no matter how large or small, can help others.”

Ms Boslem believes one of the critical elements to the success of the program is its student-led approach. 

“Mini Vinnies encourages students to talk, share their ideas and concerns and come up with suggestions on how to support others in need,” she said. “This type of hands-on involvement in driving the initiatives makes a big difference to students’ learning and understanding.”

Ms Boslem pointed out that while one of the key premises of Mini Vinnies is for students to support others in need, they too reap a reward from the program.

“The Mini Vinnies program provides students with valuable advocacy experience and enriches their understanding of their ability to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others, through their actions and words,” she said. “This is such an incredible gift as they make their way through life and gets to the heart of Gospel values.”

Ms Van Doorn said the Mini Vinnies program is open to all schools, not just Catholic schools, and encourages anyone interested in promoting social justice within their community to get in touch.

“The Vinnies model of ‘See, Think, Do’ is a great way to get young people thinking and talking about their spirituality,” she said. “Connecting their beliefs and values with service activities and issues in their community can help make their faith real, meaningful and relevant.”

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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