Paul Coles from St Vincent de Paul collecting blankets from students at St Francis Xavier's Primary School. Photo: Peter Stoop

A program across Newcastle and Maitland is providing primary school students with the opportunity to take the lead on social justice initiatives within their community.

St Vincent de Paul Society’s ‘Mini Vinnies’ was first established 30 years ago with the Catholic Schools Office in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

The program promotes community-mindedness and has helped develop legions of passionate student advocates who have gone on to become leaders in social justice.

Regional Director of the North East Region Vinnies, Clare Van Doorn, said the program is deeply valued by the charity.

“St Vincent de Paul seeks to support young people to learn more about injustices in Australian society and help build their skills as advocates and leaders, to create a more just and compassionate community,” she said.

“One of the many benefits to come from Mini Vinnies is the generous donations we receive from school communities, to support those in need.

“However, equally important if not more so, is the program’s power to engage students in understanding the needs of others and helping them to become more socially aware citizens.”

In the Maitland and Newcastle area, 41 schools participate in the program, committing to regular catch-ups to discuss social justice issues including overseas aid, homelessness, charity and poverty.

St Francis Xavier’s Primary School in Belmont welcomed this year’s program with open arms.

“Mini Vinnies provides a great opportunity for children to put all their learning and understanding of Catholic faith into action,” Principal Sonya Boslem said.

“The program is designed in a way that even our youngest students can understand how they are actively involved in working towards making a difference in the lives of others.

“It also helps to reinforce that their contributions, no matter how large or small, can help others.”

Since 2018, students involved in the school’s Mini Vinnies group have led various initiatives including blanket and clothing drives, as well as Christmas hamper appeals and collecting gold coin donations for the homeless.

Ms Van Doorn added the Mini Vinnies program is open to all schools and encourages anyone interested in promoting social justice within their community to get in touch.

“The Vinnies model of ‘See, Think, Do’ is a great way to get young people thinking and talking about their spirituality,” she said.

“Connecting their beliefs and values with service activities and issues in their community can help make their faith real, meaningful and relevant.”

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