Empowering kids to learn

In the last few months, even though St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria’s (Vinnies Victoria) face-to-face Education Programs had been disrupted by ongoing lockdowns, our amazing Dandenong Education Program team continued to provided support, stability and connection for students and families living in the Greater Dandenong region. This would not have been possible without the dedicated team of more than 50 skilled volunteers supporting the program and students. 

Hence, it was a proud moment when two of our education programs were shortlisted for the CMY Education Awards 2021 (presented by the Centre for Multicultural Youth) awards and one of our long-serving volunteers – David Nelson – received the Outstanding Volunteer, Metropolitan award. 

David is an excellent role model: dedicated, hard-working, and caring. He exemplifies the principles of growth mindset and student-centred learning. His strength in building relationships helps students feel safe, ready to learn and confident to extend themselves. Though he tutors younger primary-aged students, David can often be seen engaging older students in conversations about their education pathways or checking in on their wellbeing. 

Talking about his experience with volunteering, David says,

“My children are grown up now. While they were young, I had always enjoyed helping them with their schooling and studies. So, I wanted to help other students with my time.  When I heard about Vinnies’ program, I sent off an email and that was the beginning of my volunteer journey. It has since become my favourite activity out of all the things I do.” 

Speaking about David, Education Program Coordinator, Dandenong Program, Jane Bridges says, “It is David’s can-do attitude, commitment to the program and desire to see young people thrive through learning that makes him an amazing volunteer.” 

David is responsive to both the students’ educational needs and wellbeing, often building in mini-breaks, offering games, encouraging connections to others, and making learning relevant to their experiences. He explains:

“It's interesting as some of them were not too keen to be there on Saturday mornings as they've been to school Monday to Friday, so we put in a lot of effort in making it fun through educational games and conversations. Now they are really happy to be here on a Saturday morning.” 

In 2020, David also donated three laptops – that he had reconditioned himself – to students at the program thus initiating the Education Team’s Laptop Gifting Program. Across 2020 and 2021, the team worked with volunteers and a generous donor school to gift 72 reconditioned laptops to schools and individual families in need of support. This has made a huge impact on the students’ ability to access education and enabled them to participate in online learning during the COVID lockdowns.   

Jane adds: “David is dedicated to supporting students face-to-face and through ZOOM sessions which he attends regularly. His resilient, friendly and can-do attitude has been invaluable in the changeable circumstances of 2021. We are so proud of David and pleased that his more than 10 years of service has formally been recognised by the peek body CMY.” 

Speaking about the award, David says, “I am really humbled. All the volunteers are equally deserving or probably more deserving. I especially take my hat off to the teachers who do it Monday to Friday in their job and then they turn up on Saturday morning to do it again. I find that quite extraordinary. I just think the program is very worthwhile. I think the kids get a lot out of it. It’s not always about the education, it's just the interaction and it’s a very nice way to spend Saturday morning.”