While funding rarely enables chaplaincy to be a full time job, spend some time with an SU QLD chaplain and you’ll quickly discover it certainly looks like one. Demand for their vital services is high, but time is often in short supply.
For regional chaplains like Les Penrose, who serves as an ‘on-call Chappy’ in remote Queensland schools in Charleville, Cunnamulla, and most recently Quilpie, time is indeed a precious commodity.
“Thursdays I’m at Cunnamulla and once a month I’m in Quilpie. Other than that I could be at any of the nine schools [in the Charleville region],” says Chappy Les.
The job is not for the faint-hearted with Chappy Les regularly clocking up to 400 kilometres a day travelling between schools. Once there, he’s meeting with students, parents and teachers, and liaising with support staff during their visits to these remote schools.
Despite the long hours in school and on the road, Les does his job with great passion. It’s this passion, coupled with his training and real-life experiences, that has made him an invaluable resource for school communities in the region.
“With Les nothing is too difficult. He is particularly approachable and caring,” says Quilpie State College Principal Rachael McWaters.
“He brings those real life experiences of someone who is not a ‘schoolie’, who the students feel they can talk to.
“He’s not there pushing the religion side of things, he’s got a lot of experience dealing with disengagement and general high school issues,” she adds.
Prior to 2015 Quilpie had no chaplaincy funding, but Ms McWaters, who was not principal at the time heard of Les from other schools in the area.
Once she became principal in 2015, she applied for funding to get Les into the school.
“We don’t get too many services out here. So I thought this could be good for our students to have him come in three or four times a term to help and discuss ideas with our teachers and to build resilience in the school community,” she says.
Indeed, many important student support services that are part of daily school life in metropolitan areas are only available on select days throughout the year in places like Quilpie.
“With Les we can say, could you check in with this student and see how they’re going?
“If he wasn’t there that would fall to Support Services, who aren’t here as regularly and they’re here for 15 minutes with one student and then they move on to the next 15 minute appointment. Without Les our ability to support our students would be stretched further than it is,” Ms McWaters says.
Thankfully remote schools in locations like Quilpie have chappies like Les to support their students.
Through your continued support SU QLD hopes to meet the needs of children and young people in more remote communities across the state going forward. Visit suqld.org.au/donate.