Catherine's window of care

During National Volunteer Week (9-15 May) McAuley Community Services for Women pays tribute to volunteer Catherine White for her care of the children who come with their mothers, to McAuley Care.

Catherine White heads off to work at McAuley Care’s safe house each fortnight with a goal. “I want to make the children I meet, on that day, feel special.” Catherine’s voluntary work in the McAuley Care children’s room throws her into a new environment each week. The children are different most weeks, some are calm, some have endured or witnessed family violence and many have had to flee their homes suddenly. Catherine doesn’t feel threatened or fearful of what awaits her, instead she sees it as something of a privilege, an opportunity.

“I get the chance to show these kids a brief window of love and support, “Catherine said. Not knowing where most of the children go to after McAuley Care, or what awaits them if they return home, is difficult, but after many years volunteering Catherine has learnt to manage that emotional difficulty.

Catherine, an architect, first volunteered in a family violence organisation when she lived in Dublin in the mid 1990s. She began volunteering with the Irish organisation Women’s Aid, working emergency helplines, giving emotional support and legal advice to women seeking advice on how to leave their own “horrific” situations. A few years later she returned home to Australia and began volunteering at McAuley Care (then known as Mercy Care) in 2003 with “the incredibly lovely Sr Angela Reed”. In those days the volunteers slept over and supported the women who arrived at any time of the night.

“No matter whether it’s for the women or the children, you’re there to show support, empathy and encouragement. You don’t judge anyone. When I used to sleep over I was much more exposed to the details of what had happened to each woman. That doesn’t happen now because I work with the children… the kids have different needs. I just play it by ear,” Catherine said.

Catherine, a happily married mother of two daughters, two step-daughters and a step-son, takes her lead, on arrival, from staff and if there are no children, she cleans the playroom or does whatever is most useful. Most weeks there are children though and she will spend the day with them playing games and a range of other activities. When she turns up the next time, those familiar faces are gone and she welcomes new children.

“There is never any closure with the kids, you never get to find out if they’re OK, and that can be hard. When I used to sleep over at Mercy Care I would take that home with me, but I don’t do that now. What this volunteering has done is inspire me to be the best mother I can be to my daughters. It has also given me a lot of perspective; I am very grateful for where I am, who I am, and who I am surrounded by at this point in my life,” she said.

While Catherine’s fortnightly contribution to McAuley Care is greatly valued by everyone, she is also grateful to be able to do it. “I do it because it actually makes me feel good. Volunteering means you can give yourself fully, but also withdraw completely, without being affected by any of the politics within the organisation,” she said. “I am very thankful.”