Explanatory background by Ned Iceton
This is a particular email that I received among regular ones from the Rev. Graham Long of the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney. I think it exemplifies social development work generally, in a significant way. In particular Graham conveys for me the self-starter, participatory, citizenly quality, the interpersonal quality, and the cooperative, collective aspect that is making the difference. Note that it all works without any 'command and control' philosophy. It is just 'A Day In the Life of the Wayside Chapel'.
Graham also describes receiving the same feeling of emotional re-charge that I experience at the end of any SDN workshop.
I feel that, brief though it is, this is a 'social development story' in the fullest sense, and worth putting on our website. -- Ned Iceton
The Wayside Chapel, Sydney by Graham Long
Only a few years ago at Wayside, you would never see the public venture beyond our back desk. We are doing so much more for people these days that there are very often little groups of people gathered in every room and corner of our building, doing something.
I love to see our computer room full of people who are learning the basics. One regular student lately is a dear elderly lady who has progressed to sending e mails and playing various kinds of games. The sense of achievement beams from her lovely old face.
On the first floor is a lounge area for our Day2Day programme and its just a joy to hear the noise that comes from these people having fun and interacting with each other. Yesterday in that lounge I witnessed a circle of people engaging with each other in light hearted teasing and fun, and it struck me what an achievement it was to have this circle of people who would otherwise be all on their own somewhere.
Our Day2Day programme is really making a difference for people with long term mental health issues. I've observed a physical change take place in people as they begin the programme and slowly build confidence to mix with people and trust our workers. One very beautiful young girl I know by sight, would come in just a few weeks ago and join in a cooking class but keep her back to people and hunch over her cooking bowl to make sure that no one would engage with her. Not only is she [now] mixing with confidence but she has discovered a love of photography. She has discovered she has a pretty good eye for taking photos and now she is beginning to take classes. She still lives on the street and comes bringing all her worldly goods in a small bag, but the development of confidence is so profound that this has to be the beginnings of a life-changing encounter..
I've spent most of my week away from Wayside, engaged in all kinds of things on behalf of Wayside. Increasingly I'm all around the place speaking to groups about our work.
We have such a fantastic staff that I don't need to worry about the wheels turning back here. I've never worked with such a passionate and professional team anywhere. Most of our staff are quite young but well educated as well as passionate to work for a place that makes this world a better place. I often feel like something of a grand father in this team but I don't mind because I'm a very proud grand father. It wasn't that long ago that we only had two full time people on staff, including me and then a hand full of part-timers. Today we have 31 people on staff and most of those are full time. It's been a dramatic turn around - not entirely without strain at times - but the end result is that homeless, mentally ill, addicted and lonely people are better served.
I'm often asked what it is that makes Wayside distinctive and my answer is along these lines - our hope is that people will be "met" rather than "worked on" - that people will be treated as "people" before they are treated as "problems". The miracle factor at Wayside is present to the extent that people become "real" people rather than "cases" or "clients" or "patients". With our team I resist most of the collective nouns that they use of the people we serve, not because I want to make a point about language alone, but because deep down I believe that when people become real, most of our distinctions - like, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, smart and silly, well and ill - are blown away and irrelevant to the extent that all people find the power to educate, heal and save.
Such good news when it happens is always a two way deal, in other words we are all "saved" or all "lost" together. We are all healing together or we all shriveling up together. This is why I leave Wayside most days, more alive than when I arrived.