Stepping Stone House, Sydney
How Stepping Stone House began
In 1989 Max and Joan Connery were alarmed at the number of homeless young people in Sydney. Inspired by a lay group in Rome – The Community of Saint Egidio – they believed our community could help.
Max, at a wake for a Rugby mate, suggested they form a committee to set up a house for homeless young people. He pointed out:
“Wesley Mission’s Gordon Moyes and Dr Alf Pollard say that it would cost $80,000 per annum to run a 24 hour supervised house for seven young homeless. I believe we could turn them around with good care and outdoor activities and camps. Wesley will help with staffing and know how.
I have been lucky in my life. We are all accidents of birth. We have no say as to who our parents are. This is a way of giving those who are homeless, through no fault of their own, a chance. I am looking for $3,000 a year for 3 years from 15 to 20 people.” The fifteen present all agreed to contribute.
A large federation house was coming up for auction in the following 2 weeks. It was ideal and only 105 metres from a railway station. It was passed in at auction with Max being the highest bidder at $300,000. In the next few days the Big Brother Movement (BBM Ltd.) agreed to buy the house at the request of Jim Fergusson, one of the fifteen, and Stepping Stone House could lease it from them for 3 years. The house was then restructured so that we had 6 bedrooms with a self contained flat. Stepping Stone House had arrived!
Stepping Stone House has helped over 300 young people in its first 20 years. The idea was to create a secure and safe location for young people in need, most of whom came from an environment of neglect, abandonment, abuse, with exposure to drugs, alcohol and violence, complicated by mental health issues. After 3 years Stepping Stone House purchased the property back from BBM Ltd which remains our major financial sponsor. After 6 years we separated from Wesley Mission and have remained independent ever since.
Outdoor activities are part of the programme. Stepping Stone House has walked the Cradle Mountain track with the young people, kayaked on Lake Eucumbene, twice there has been a 10 day sailing voyage from Sydney to Mooloolaba. Two camps take place each year including 4 days skiing in the Snowy Mountains. Many of our ex-residents attend these trips paying their own way. They are superb mentors for our residents.
The Stepping Stone House board is not just for fundraising. It requires a report on the progress of each young person every month and watches how the money is spent. An Independent Living Program (ILP) was added after 6 years and two houses were leased where young people are monitored but not supervised 24 hours.
In 2006, an ILP wing was constructed which provides a 3 bedroom self contained flat linked to the main house. This was made possible by a grant of $250,000 from the Property Industry Foundation.
The house continues as a not-for-profit charitable organisation in which 98% of the money raised goes to the young people. There are no professional fundraisers and the administration costs are minimal at 1.7%.
Individuals, small/big business and corporate groups provide donations. One donor said in a letter to us:
“We extend our every good wish for the great work you do. About two thousand years ago the Roman satirist Juvenal warned that we must be gentle with the young. Unfortunately that it is not an exhortation that has been heeded to the detriment of too many young people. We know that those young people who are helped to a better life will be grateful for the opportunities you offer, they will never forget you.”
“Our benefactors include the Late Sir Donald Bradman, Nick Farr-Jones, David Kirk and Peter FitzSimons. The sporting fraternity are very generous. The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron Kirribilli has hosted our Regatta fundraiser each year for the last 16 years.
We have accommodation for 5 in the main house for 12 to 18 year olds, 3 in the Semi Independent Living Program home and a further 5 in the Independent Living Program home. Together with the former residents in our After Care program, Stepping Stone House provides care development and support for approximately 40 children and young people.
Through Family and Community Services, the NSW government only provides funding for 3 of the 40 children and young people in our care. We have to fundraise the rest.
Stepping Stone House has volunteers who provide time where they engage with the young people socially through activities, conversations, music, art, outings and sporting excursions as well as giving of their time on a Saturday or during the week when staff training is in place.
Max and Joan Connery were awarded Medals of the Order of Australia (OAM) for their services to homeless youth. Max in 2000 and Joan in 2006.”
“The establishment of Stepping Stone House by a group of young professionals is an inspiring example of compassion determination and resourcefulness within our community”
– Carmel Tebbutt, Minister for Education – 28 April 2006 when opening our new premises
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