Mercy Links Women

Mairead Kennedy and Bernadette Inman are not experts when it comes to facials or hair dyes, but they know a lot about compassion and respect. That’s the key to their monthly visits to McAuley House where Bernadette and Mairead, along with several other young women, offer pamper sessions to the women residents.    

Bernadette, who is coordinator of Young Mercy Links, and Mairead, who is a Mercy Links volunteer, turn up with their pamper kits each month because they love the opportunity to show the women, many homeless because of family violence or mental illness, that they are important and worthy of care. The Young Mercy Links volunteers are also committed to continuing the work of Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.

Young Mercy Links volunteers are aged between 18 and 27 and most have been taught by Mercy Sisters or educated at Mercy founded schools. One or two have joined the group after working at a Mercy school or other organisation. Mairead, a former student of the Mercy-founded Sacred Heart College in Kyneton, now teaches at Mercy College in Coburg.

Mairead, who has been part of the pamper team for three years, began while studying at university. She has developed some really lovely connections with the residents and former residents, and now mentors some of the new Young Mercy Links volunteers.

Bernadette, who was educated at Damascus College in Ballarat, has also taught at St Aloysius in North Melbourne and at Our Lady of Mercy College in Heidelberg. Her long association with the ‘Mercy world’ extends beyond her schooling and has influenced her sense of social justice and led her to McAuley House. McAuley House supports women, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, on their journey towards recovery and independence by providing medium term accommodation, meals and intensive and individualised case management support.

The pamper nights offer residents the chance to have their hair done, facials, massages and manicures. But mostly the nights are about building relationships.

“We usually have the same group of volunteers and the same residents turn up, so over time friendships have developed. One lady comes along just to sit and get her hair brushed for an hour and during that time the two women will talk about what’s on television, the volunteer’s study and everything in between. Sometimes I step back and listen to the buzz in the room and what that means – it’s not so much about pampering, as connecting,” Bernadette said.

“We do what we can to offer something that the women can’t get in the amazing day to day support offered at McAuley House. It’s more like a slumber party – it is comfortable and no one is trying hard to make anything happen.”

Most months the volunteers leave McAuley House on a high and Bernadette wonders if they are doing enough to be so uplifted by the experience.

“I guess that shows that everyone benefits from the experience. Certainly, for a lot of the new volunteers the pamper nights are an eye-opener,” Bernadette said. “It’s an amazing place, like a home for the women, and when we turn up there is such a sense of welcome and we are treated like guests.”

As well as volunteering at McAuley House, the 30 Young Mercy Links volunteers also work regularly on the St Vincent de Paul soup van in North Melbourne and tutor asylum seeker and refugee children after school. They also organise regular justice evenings to explore issues such as human trafficking.

Caption: Mairead Kennedy (front) and Rachel Prince wrap Christmas gifts for the women at McAuley House.