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Social exclusion occurs when members of the community cannot participate in key activities for whatever reason. This may mean they have restricted access to the economic resources and/or services they require or they are effectively disengaged Mini Vinnies from many of the activities many community members would take for granted. Examples might include an inability to see a dentist or medical practitioner or an inability to take the kids on a holiday.
Social exclusion is a newer concept which is broadening our understanding of the disadvantaged in Australia.
Why is it Important to Learn about Poverty and Social Exclusion?
It is important for children to learn about these justice issues so that they are aware of the injustices in the world. Children who grow up with an awareness of other people suffering and the reasons why they suffer grow into more compassionate, giving adults. They also have a greater understanding of the blessings in their lives.
‘Thinking’ is a form of faith formation. It allows Mini Vinnies members to develop their understanding of social justice issues in a personal way through reflection, discussion, expression and prayer.
How to Form a Mini Vinnies Group The first step is to introduce the children in your school to the idea of Mini Vinnies and find out if any of them are interested in forming a group. You could spend some time learning a bit about the Society and how volunteers of all ages can help, or request a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society Youth Team, a teacher, parent of Vinnies Conference Member to come and speak to the students and answer any questions they may have about the Society.
You will need to find a teacher* who is willing to help coordinate the group. Once a Coordinator has been appointed, the Coordinator should decide which years/classes they want to open the Mini Vinnies group to. Many schools limit membership to their Mini Vinnies group to the older years 4, 5 and 6. However, Mini Vinnies groups are open to primary school children of all ages. Once the Coordinator has selected what years he or she wants to open the Mini Vinnies group to, he or she can arrange a time, date and room for the first meeting.
To advertise the first meeting, the Coordinator can either put up a poster, put a notice in the school bulletin, speak to students at the School Assembly or personally invite any children who are interested in Mini Vinnies to come along.
It is often a good idea to invite someone from the St Vincent de Paul Youth Team, or from a local St Vincent de Paul Society Mini Vinnies Parish Conference to come and speak at your first meeting. They can offer significant experience in running Mini Vinnies groups around their Diocese and can provide valuable advice on what works, what doesn’t work and how best to manage the group.
The First Meeting
1. Open the meeting with a prayer or reflection;
2. Allow the representative from Vinnies to briefly address the group;
3. Decide as a group when, where and how often you will hold meetings;
4. Discuss what activities and projects the group could undertake or look into;
5. Discuss what roles will exist in the group and what would be required of people in those roles;
6. Close the meeting with a prayer and details of the next meeting.
You might decide to have particular leadership roles within your group. These could include:
• President – works closely with the coordinating staff member to look after the Mini Vinnies group, and may chair the meetings and help allocate work to different members of the group;
• Vice President – is supportive of the president, and may take on the leadership of meetings or activities when the president is absent;
• Secretary – takes notes of the meetings and keeps a record of projects and activities undertaken by the group;
• Treasurer – keeps track of money raised by the group;
• Spiritual Advisor – is responsible for preparing a prayer or reflection for each meeting;
Any other role that your Mini Vinnies group has a need for.
Usually, the Mini Vinnies children are presented with a certificate and a badge by the school principal or a representative of Vinnies.
At the ceremony, the Mini Vinnies group can also recite a pledge – there is a pledge in this resource kit which the group can use, otherwise they may wish to create their own which is special and unique to their Mini Vinnies group.
At the ceremony, someone from Vinnies can speak about the Vinnies symbol and the aims of the Society, and congratulate the students for getting involved. You can then have a commissioning ceremony at the start of each year, to welcome students who have joined the group and to launch the group’s activities for another school year.
Mini Vinnies The Role of the Teacher Any staff member within the school can take on the role of coordinating the Mini Vinnies group – it does not necessarily have to be the Religious Education Coordinator. What is important is that the person is willing to commit some of their time to attending Mini Vinnies meetings and other events and fundraisers that the group organises.
In a Mini Vinnies group, it should be the children that identify the needs in their community, come up with ideas of how to help and make decisions about fundraisers and service activities. The role of the teacher is to guide these discussions and assist the students to put their passion and ideas into action by keeping discussions within the realm of possibilities.
The teacher will need to help the group by looking into the feasibility of projects according to school OH&S and duty of care requirements. Such considerations should not be a barrier to any and every project that the group plans; all that is needed is for the teacher to spend some time looking into the OH&S requirements and ensuring that the requisite processes are followed so the activities are safe. This may involve organising permission slips, getting the principal’s approval or recruiting parents or teachers to assist with supervision.
In Mini Vinnies, children can really have a say and make decisions about how they can help people in their community. The coordinating teacher should help make this happen, and should support the children in their individual and collective growth and formation in the process. Someone from the St Vincent de Paul Society Youth Team or local Conference member can assist and support the coordinating teacher in their role.
Meetings When your Mini Vinnies group is established, your meetings can follow a similar format to the first meeting, although you don’t need to invite a Vinnies member to every meeting. You may, however, invite guest speakers to address the group from time to time. You could invite a guest speaker to talk about a particular social justice issue, which could influence the group’s activities for the following term and inspire the children to continue in their efforts to shape a more just society.
28 VICTORIA Learning about Vinnies It is important for a Mini Vinnies group to learn about the history and works of the St Vincent de Paul Society, both locally and on an international level. The children may want to read about the founders of the Society, or a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society Youth Team can give a presentation about how the Society began. A local St Vincent de Paul Society Conference member could talk to the group about when and where the Conference meets, what the needs are in their region and ways the Conference helps local people. The group could also visit some different places to learn about how Vinnies works in their Diocese, such as the warehouse where all the donated clothes are sorted and distributed or a local Vinnies Family Centre.
Having Fun As well as helping children to develop leadership skills, learn about issues in their community and discover their ability to make a difference in the world, Mini Vinnies can be a great way for young people to make new friends.
As well as providing time in meetings for children to talk and get to know each other better, it is good to have some social activities within your Mini Vinnies group. A shared lunch or morning tea at the start or end of each term is a good way to celebrate the good works the group has done and to give the children a good opportunity to get to know each other better, which will help them to work well as a team.
This fun, social element of Mini Vinnies makes it more enjoyable and interesting for the children involved. It can also help them to establish friendships and support networks that will be of great benefit to them as they leave primary school and perhaps get involved in a Vinnies group at their high school or out of school hours.
Mini Vinnies ‘DO’ - COMMUNITY SERVICE This is an opportunity for children to put all their learning (seeing) and formation (thinking) into action. It is important for members of Mini Vinnies groups to understand that they can make a difference in this world. To this end, doing means undertaking an achievable project that will make a difference in the lives of the poor, isolated or marginalised.
It is important to understand that simply by setting up a Mini Vinnies group, the members are doing something tangible:
• They pray as part of each meeting
• They learn and
• They develop into more socially aware and responsible adults Sometimes it is easier to teach children a lesson when the good works and its effects are tangible. Measurable good works
• Fundraising for St Vincent de Paul Society
• Performances at Nursing Homes
• Christmas Appeal
• Card Making There is an obvious benefit in ensuring that members of a Mini Vinnies group KNOW they can effect real change and that the world’s problems are not so large that one shouldn’t at the very least try. If a toy they donate makes just one more child smile at Christmas, then it is all worth it.
Raising Money Your Mini Vinnies group may decide to run one fundraiser per term, or only one or two for the entire year – it will depend on the ability and desire of the children to organise fundraisers, the extent to which the school will allow the group to raise
Where Does the Money Go?
It is up to the Mini Vinnies group to decide what they want to raise money for. There may be a particular need within their community which they want to address through fundraising, or a guest speaker may have talked to them about a particular Vinnies program which they would like to support. The money could be used by the Mini Vinnies to set up a project or program within the school, or given to the St Vincent de Paul Society to assist in good works across Australian and overseas. The money could go to the local Vinnies Conference, or to a Special Work of your choice.
With any fundraiser, it is important to let people know where the funds will be going (for example, to supporting kids in need, to provide material support to struggling families in the local area, or to feeding homeless people). People are more likely to support the fundraiser if they know exactly who they will be helping by making a donation. This also helps you to raise awareness at the same time as raising funds.
Supporting People in the School Community You could also raise money for struggling families within the school. Money raised could be put into a fund – to be managed by the school bursar or administration staff – and used to help families cover the cost of excursions, uniforms, stationery etc.
Even though the Mini Vinnies group would not know who exactly is being helped through such a program (confidentiality is obviously important), they would know that they are giving vital support to a family within their immediate community.
Mini Vinnies Raising Awareness Raising awareness of social justice issues is a very important part of the work the St Vincent de Paul Society, and Mini Vinnies groups can play a key role in this.
There are heaps of ways your Mini Vinnies group can stand up and speak out in your school community. The best way to start is with education. Teach people about the injustices in our communities, once people know and care about an issue they’re more likely to stand up and speak out against it. Here are some examples of ways you can raise awareness about issues in your school, but by no means is this a full list – the best way to do it is to be innovative, come up with ways to communicate your message that best suits your school.
Hold school assemblies, let the whole school know about the injustice and educate them on all the things that are happening and why they are unjust. (You can do this in a variety of ways – speeches, drama plays and other performance pieces, art installments etc.) At recess and lunchtime create stalls or events that draw attention to the injustice and educate your peers on what’s happening. Make announcements over the school PA. Organise a week dedicated to the cause with something happening each day. (E.g. Have a ‘Refugee Week’. With an assembly on Monday, a fundraiser on Tuesday, an art show on Wednesday etc.) There are so many ways you can educate people on injustice. Be creative! Some of these ideas can easily be tailored to suit your school.
Advocacy Once you have people caring about the issue, the next step is to go and do something about it! Be advocates for social justice and take action against injustice. Examples of things you can do include: (again – this is not a complete list) 32 VICTORIA Write letters! Start with your Mini Vinnies group then get your class/grade/school to write letters to a government minister telling them how you feel about the injustice and why you think it needs to be changed. Alternatively you can write a letter of companionship/solidarity – e.g. write to developing school communities overseas, or marginalised communities in Australia;
let them know that you are thinking of them, give them a chance for their story to be heard.
Let your community know! Once your school community is educated and cares about an issue, let your local community know. Deliver pamphlets, mail outs. Hold stalls and educate locals on what’s going on.