A full heart

As Alex, Brendan and their three children wait for the photographer to set up on Redhead Beach, it was hard to miss the chorus of “look, it’s Mrs Walsh” from nearby youngsters enjoying an afternoon swim.

Spotting their favourite teacher ‘in the wild’ seemed akin to seeing a celebrity, a fact of life Alex has gotten accustomed to since she started teaching at nearby St Paul’s Primary School, Gateshead in 2009.

“We love living in Redhead, it’s the most beautiful community. We adore it here; I don’t think we’ll be leaving anytime soon,” Alex said.

Alex and Brendan are as Novocastrian as they come. The loving couple, who married in 2001, were first acquainted as youngsters when they attended St Joseph’s Primary School in Kilaben Bay. Upon meeting the Walsh family, it is their physical likeness that first strikes you, but it only takes a few minutes of talking to them to realise their most prominent similarity is their community mindedness.

Alex spoke fondly of her parents, Alan and Julie, who had four children together yet still prioritised helping others outside the family unit.

“Mum and Dad, through their words and actions, were always instilling that the most important thing you can do in life is help others,” Alex said.

Like Alex and Brendan, Alan and Julie were heavily involved in their children’s school community and the local parish.

“For a time, they lead the youth group at church and took part in the Aunties and Uncles program to help foster children,” Alex said.

She goes on to recall that for as long as she can remember, her parents have been generous supporters of Caritas Australia. Supporting over three million people across the globe every year, Caritas Australia works in the most disadvantaged and vulnerable areas and uses long-term sustainable practices, such as working with local communities and NGOs, to build resilience and empowerment into the future. Each year during Lent, the charity launches its major fundraising appeal ‘Project Compassion.’

Supporting the charity is a benevolent tradition that Alex and Brendan have also taken up and one they hope that their children will continue into adulthood. Accordingly, when the theme for this year’s appeal was announced as ‘For All Future Generations,’ it struck a chord with the couple.

“My earliest memory of Project Compassion was at primary school where we would be given a paper mission box,” Alex said. “We would take the box home and sit it on the kitchen bench and anytime you had spare coins you’d place them in the box.”

It was a similar experience for Alex’s mother Julie who still shares stories of how, as a child, she would receive paper boxes from the nuns at school and was asked to fill them with coins.

Alex’s daughter Isabelle, 9, then strides across the beach to excitedly exclaim the process remained the same today, two generations later.

“At the end of Lent, we take the box to Mass and feel really proud knowing we were able to help other people in some small way,” Isabelle said.

Isabelle’s siblings, Will, 15, and Emma, 11, are also contributing to Project Compassion, in a sign the family’s altruistic gene is firmly entrenched in a third generation.

“We do fundraisers, games, and sell ice cream to raise money,” Emma explained. Will outlines the family’s ‘pay it forward’ attitude to helping others. “If you help a stranger, they could help three people, and those three people help six people, and it goes on and on and on,” he said.

Reflecting on her children’s words, Alex offers the following.

“I was always encouraged to help others, so naturally that’s something Brendan and I hope we’ve passed down to our kids,” Alex said.

But it isn’t just her own children Alex encourages to perform acts of kindness, but the entire parish and school community.

For the last seven years Alex has been the facilitator of St Paul’s Mini Vinnies program. Mini Vinnies is a fundraising group run by students who actively seek out opportunities to support those doing it tough both locally and abroad.

Ultimately, the MacKillop Parish member hopes to inspire the next generation to practice gratitude and think about the needs of others.

“As a community, we’re living such busy lives and it’s easy to get caught up in your world,” Alex said.

“It’s good to stand back and have some perspective on what other people are going through, and through that perspective, ask ‘what can I do?’

“Even if it’s as little as dropping five cents in a Project Compassion box or saying ‘hello’ to others when you’re down at the beach – small deeds every day can make a big difference.”

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