Home' Aurora : Aurora June 2012 Contents 10
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
kid at a time
to be a normal
By CATHERINE MAHONY
Over 20 years ago during his Christmas
holidays at Nelson Bay, Robert
Innes first met 2012 NSW Australian
of the Year, Fr Chris Riley. Soon after
hearing Fr Chris speak during Mass, Robert
encouraged fellow members of St Joseph's
East Maitland school and parish community
to raise funds for Fr Chris Riley's "Youth
Off The Streets", currently the largest
independent (non government) provider of
care for homeless youth in Australia.
After almost ten more years of raising funds
and organising the donation of goods in
kind for Youth Off The Streets (YOTS), Fr
Chris suggested Robert give up his job as a
long distance truck driver and manage the
YOTS Op Shops. Now living in Birubi, Robert
manages several hundred volunteers and
eight shops across the Hunter, Central
Coast, Sydney and Bowral.
Robert says he is inspired by Fr Chris'
"honesty and the way he speaks to people.
He can calm a troubled kid just by the way
he speaks to them, just by giving them
"When people ask what you do, you feel
proud to say you work for Chris Riley,
it gives you a real buzz. Even our
volunteers, the reason they
volunteer and work so hard is
because they realise they're
helping Fr Riley in his work,
by putting money in the
Robert says the eight shops
raise about half a million
dollars for YOTS each year. "Our
aim is to turn donated goods into
dollars. It's always a knife-edge situation.
Father can spend money as quickly as
anyone can make it!"
As well as the usual retail challenges like
customer relations and staff disputes,
managing Op Shops includes some unique
issues for Robert.
"The biggest challenge is trying to keep the
shops turning over enough stock so that
people see it changing. We're still getting
a number of customers through the door
but they're not buying as well as they have
been, and the problem is if there's nothing
new there every time they come in, they
"We are getting the same, or more, donations
than we ever have. The trouble is the quality
isn't as good as it used to be," Robert
explains. "As the economy tightens, people
are hanging on to things longer before they
replace them or they are selling them on
eBay or at a garage sale, or they're giving
them to family and friends. Then we get the
third hand goods that the family and friends
"Our volunteers, instead of selling one
lounge a day and getting $100, are selling
two or three lounges a day and still only
getting $100. It's just harder to sell lesser
During April, Islington's YOTS Op Shop was
closed down, due to the high price of rent
which the shop's dwindling income was
unable to cover.
The other difficulty faced by YOTS and
other Op Shops is the growing amount of
unusable donations and the costs borne
by the charities in disposing of them. "You
get building materials, old fence palings,
parts of damaged motor vehicles, broken up
concrete pathways. These people are clearly
just dumping their stuff with us rather than
taking it to the tip."
"In other instances," Robert said, "people
might be genuinely wishing to donate
to us, but the poor quality of the
goods they're leaving isn't
useful to us; dirty -- and I
mean dirty -- lounges and
beds, wardrobes without
doors and other damaged
"A lot of people consider,
wrongly, that we don't pay to
go to the tip; that we and the
other charities get it for free, but we
pay, believe me."
Robert estimates that a number of the
Hunter YOTS shops would spend at least
$50 each Monday disposing of useless
goods. In Sydney, the costs can be as high
as $350 per week per shop.
"Our volunteers just spend Mondays very
upset, very cranky. They're working for
nothing virtually, just to pay the tip bill."
Robert says knowing what to donate is
quite simple. "The general rule is if it's not
saleable, we don't want it. If you wouldn't
buy it, don't try and give it to a charity."
Despite these and other very real challenges,
Robert and his volunteers remain committed
to supporting Fr Chris Riley and the work
of YOTS. "What keeps me here is the
success, knowing we're doing the best we
can. While we're not making what we were
two years ago, we're still making a profit, a
I asked Robert if there was a particular story
or experience of YOTS work that motivates
him during the difficult times. "There are
lots of kids," he responded quickly.
He told me of a young girl whom his family
had met a number of years ago and
remained in contact with for some time.
"She had been a working prostitute and a
drug addict. Recently I came across that
girl at a YOTS event with her husband and
child. Now she's a fair dinkum member of
society. You wouldn't have picked her from
"What you're doing is providing money for
Father to be able to work his magic; bringing
back one kid at a time to be a contributing
member of society."
You may wish to visit
C AT HERINE MAHONY
Fr St phane and "Napoleon".
You will find YOTS Op Shops at
Maitland 250 High St, P 4933 4433,
open 9am - 3.30pm Monday to Friday,
9am - noon Saturday.
Paraphernalia (Antiques and
Collectables) 248 High St,
P 4934 4344, open Friday to Saturday
10am - 4pm.
Cessnock 136 Vincent St,
P 4991 4426, open 9am - 3.30pm
Monday to Friday.
Singleton 251 John St, P 6572 1789,
open 9.30am - 3.30pm Monday to Friday,
9am - noon Saturday.
Good quality donations always
accepted and volunteers always
Bishop Bill's article "Taking 'no' for
an answer" (May Aurora) prompts me to
offer some comments.
My thoughts are, perhaps, partly formed
by an opinion expressed by Sister Joan
Chittister OSB in her regular column in
The National Catholic Reporter on 18
Her article was titled `The ticking bomb
of lay involvement` and made some
references to Canon 212 of the Code of
That canon seemed to invite an
openness to participation by the laity in
the organisational development of the
church -- a very welcome change.
Somehow, that participation has not
eventuated; in fact it is being denied.
In essence, the power wielders of the
church are continuing to say 'no' to
There are some serious consequences.
A significant number of people have
walked away or 'voted with their feet' in
frustration. There is a distinct loss of
creative energy and spirit. The church is
facing a sudden and dramatic decline in
participants within ten to fifteen years,
No one can say that a co-operative
or collaborative approach, meaning
shared, subsidiary decision making and
responsibility, will not work. I believe we
must trial that approach before it is too
late and we must resist taking 'no' for
You can read Sr Joan's column at
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
John Casey of Wallsend writes:
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