Running or walking, the power’s in the doing

Sydney, 06 Oct 2016

In 2015, Macquarie Sydney employee and 2016 Volunteer of the Year David Fahy travelled to the US to compete in the Boston Marathon, in the process raising more than $16,000 with Macquarie Group Foundation matching for a purpose-built vocational classroom in western Sydney for marginalised students.

“The classroom’s been very successful – it was even built by the very people it was going to serve,” says David, a year later. He decided to do the 2016 Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon in September and was able to raise a further $65,000, with the money again going to social services non-profit Cana Communities.

The softly-spoken Irish-Australian is a long-term supporter of Cana, which manages the vocational classroom he helped rebuild at Cana Farm. This farm offers workplace readiness training in the classroom for 160 disadvantaged or long-term unemployed students who are facing a range of issues, as well as counselling and companionship in an agricultural setting.

Cana Farm also operates a social enterprise, providing employment to the long-term unemployed and selling a range of goods, with profits going back into providing employment for marginalised people. It was nominated by the United Nations for a human rights award in 2013 and won a Federal Government award for excellence in education.

Cana also runs four residential homes, shelters and facilitates, a pre- and post-release programme in partnership with the Compulsory Drug Therapy Correction Centre and financially supports transitional housing for those who become more independent. It is the largest provider of emergency overnight accommodation in inner Sydney, providing almost 20,000 bed nights and 60,000 meals per year.

David has also volunteered as an overnight manager at one of Cana’s emergency shelters for the homeless in inner Sydney for the past seven years, where his role is to welcome and manage a disparate group for the evening, creating as much warmth and normality as possible. He also provides breakfast to the guests in the morning.

But David is reluctant to be in the spotlight, preferring to highlight the contribution many others make to the organisation.

“Cana is managed and operated by volunteers, including a number of key people who volunteer full time with Cana,” he says. “They do an amazing job and you have to take your hat off to them.

He adds that by choosing not to take government funding, community members can be supported in a way that makes their lives more comfortable without the accountability and restrictions that often occur when funding is accepted.

As part of the Sydney race that David competed in in September, Cana CEO Julie Sneddon and Cana Farm volunteer manager Danielle Seisun led a walking group of more than 20 Cana clients across the Harbour Bridge in the four kilometre fun run section. Julie noted that “only a few of the participants had ever crossed the Harbour Bridge before - not even in a car, let alone on foot - which, given the iconic nature of the Bridge in Sydney, was an achievement in itself".

Following the event, David arranged for the group to attend a social gathering at a bowling club, where Cana guests mingled with his personal and professional networks. He said the day was a great success and the Cana participants felt honoured that they were accepted as part of a broader group.

“The people Cana care for have experienced all sorts of challenges – they are those with the least options. People struggling with mental illness, marriage breakdowns, drug and alcohol addiction, refugees or those leaving prison etc. Sydney has become such an expensive place to live that homelessness is easy to fall into.

“I’ve definitely learnt more perspective and patience and have a better understanding of what’s really happening on the margins of society through volunteering with Cana. And it’s great that the financial support from the Macquarie Group Foundation is making a big difference to Cana.”

He also credits Cana with helping turn people’s lives around over the long-term.

“Cana is making a generational change – there’s a father and son who have both experienced personal issues and they came along on the fun run and both are employed at Cana Farm which is great to see and they are looking to the future with confidence.”

“My idea was to encourage Cana's community group to do something themselves. It was about giving people hope. Now they have set up a social club at Cana Farm and many of them are talking about running the nine kilometre section of the race next year which is a step up - they have started training already for next year’s race.

“They were so thrilled with what they achieved by entering the fun run. And that’s more important than the money.”

Image caption: David Fahy pictured in blue, top left, with the Cana team at the start of the race. The combination of David’s fundraising and volunteering over the last several years helped win Cana a $10,000 donation through the Macquarie Group Foundation’s 2016 Staff in the Community Awards.