In four years, Chaplain Jenny Wallin has witnessed the remote central Queensland town of Dysart plunge, from coal mining boom town, to a community struggling under the weight of social and economic change.
“We’re in the middle of an economic changeover because one of our coal mines closed and house prices have fallen,” Jenny explains. “The young people [here] have known Dysart as a town where there’s lots of money and freedom, and now that’s changing.”
Thankfully, the community have had a chaplain to turn to. Local school students have been seeking out Chappy Jenny as a safe person to talk to as their families struggle through this period of great change. It’s a challenging role, Jenny admits, but a role she knows is helping the young people of Dysart survive through this challenging transition.
“That sort of interaction with the students that they come just to touch base with you and then they’re okay to travel on with their day – that’s profound,” she says.
Jenny has been actively supporting students through a variety of initiatives, including providing breakfast for the students that are undertaking their QCS exams, cooking doughnuts for fundraisers, and serving muffins for the students doing their NAPLAN tests.
Jenny recognises the need for Dysart to pull together as a community at this time. And she’s leading by example, working with the students and the Dysart community to do whatever she can to help. She’s highly active in the community organising and serving at numerous community events.
“P&C and the school community are trying to work really closely together with our teaching staff to just have a lot more activities,” explains Jenny. “We’re kind of mixing it up so we have food with events and that hospitality breaks down a lot of walls. So it’s [a time of] transition and it’s tough, but we’re getting there.”
Despite the challenges, Jenny knows the work she does is invaluable. Having endured a demanding year with her own family, it was difficult at times for the chaplain to find the energy to invest in the young people at her school. But when she remembers the importance of her work, she finds the strength to keep going.
“Every young person needs another adult outside of their significant adults to be able to talk to. Just to say hello to and be able to complain to when life gets tough. Those times, I think, are the pinnacle times for most of our young people, because in class they don’t get that freedom to be able to do that a lot. And if they can just get it off their chest and have someone listen to it and say yes, you’re validated and yes it’s okay you feel like that then they can then move on.”
School chaplaincy doesn’t stop at the school gates. Chaplains help families and whole communities through tough times. You can help school chaplains be there for communities by donating much-needed funds. Donate today at suqld.org.au/donate.