Posted by Br Gary Wison on 1 October 2020

What to do with that once-used Formal-Wear? While it may sit in the wardrobe for one's off-spring, re-cycling sounds a good idea today. Lasallians from La Salle Catholic College Bankstown and Oakhill College Castle Hill, did exactly that, with a twist. Students and parents volunteered their used gear in billows and boxes to "San Miguel Family Centre"- a family crisis centre, established initially in 1979 by a prophetic Br. Finbar Kelly, as a special welfare work of the De La Salle Brothers. He had become aware of the needs of fractured families, working as a counsellor at Oakhill College.

The centre was envisaged as a refuge or halfway home, and a new start for broken families, especially disadvantaged, struggling women and their children. Situated on a rural property in North Richmond, a northwestern suburb of Sydney, it was strongly supported financially by Oakhill College under Br. Peter McIntosh, in addition to a substantial loan from De La Salle "BoysTown" Beaudesert, and by large-scale fund-raising over time. Br. Finbar and the first residents lived in tents and three old houses. Brother's sheer personality and drive propelled the Centre forward. Well-known supporters were Jack Gibson, rugby league coach of distinction, and Lasallian old-boy Mike Bailey, an ABC presenter. The governor of NSW, Sir Roden Cutler, became the patron and local community groups like St. Vincent de Paul Society and a Lions Club- were supportive. Government grants emerged in the 1980's and a Brothers' Community was established in 1985. The following years saw several religious sisters working and living there fulltime as well, over many years.

The residents were offered expanding programs - basic life-skills education, work training, access to community and government assistance, and counselling, as well as regular local public schooling for the children, or day care for toddlers. There was emergency accommodation for 75 families, 246 people in 1987. By 1993 a Government-funded "Skillshare Centre" was functioning for residents and local unemployed people. Several Brothers were now involved in this difficult and sometimes dangerous welfare work. By 1996, the Centre was valued at $5 million and completely clear of debt. As the new century progressed, administration was taken over by "yourtown" in 2003, with professionally trained social workers and administrators who understand and value the Lasallian tradition. The Brothers' community was closed in 2009, after 24 years, as advanced age of Brothers took its toll.

Although a small welfare facility, San Miguel Family Centre, named after a saintly Brother from Ecuador, today provides vital needs to marginalised adults and children. It also creates activities that are memorable.  One such was the "formal", simulated on September 11, 2020. An appeal went out to Lasallian schools in Sydney, taken up by La Salle Catholic and Oakhill. Ten adults and five children participated in the event, decked out in fine attire. The permanent staff donated extra time and their skills decorating the venue, catering, doing fashion hair design and make-up, baking the event cake and photography. Canapés and drinks preceded the private mini-bus trip to "Jacks Recreation Centre", where a sit-down dinner was served, with child-minding for young children.

A wonderful night and memorable event for those dealing with very difficult living, in a society that seems to not greatly care at times. A unique service of the De La Salle network. The collaboration of Lasallian schools and this Lasallian welfare agency helps along the way.

For more information: https://www.yourtown.com.au/our-services/san-miguel

Sarah's Story: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-09/homeless-young-parents-numbers-increasing/8786448
Author:Br Gary Wison
About: De La Salle Brother
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