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Jesuit Social Services-Australia: 35 years and beyond

30 April 2012

Drawing on their experience of engaging with disadvantaged people, families, and communities, the JSS Policy Unit works to identify areas of unmet need, conduct research, and use findings to advocate for change in keeping the vision of “building a just society.” Photo Credits: JSS

Julie Edwards

2012 marks the 35th year of Jesuit Social Services offering practical assistance to people in need.  Since then, we have been standing up for people’s rights.  We engage with the disadvantaged and work in some of the most difficult and demanding areas of human service, such as criminal justice, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, suicide bereavement, long-term unemployment, entrenched social disadvantage, and refugee and new arrivals settlement.  Our vision is to build a just society where all people can live to their full potential.  To achieve this, we partner with others to support those most in need and work to influence change in policies, practices, ideas, and values that perpetuate inequality, prejudice, and exclusion.

Jesuit Social Services understands that social justice and eco-justice are inextricably intertwined.  With this, in the midst of global ecological crisis, we commit to responsible sustainability management by operating in a manner that protects and improves our environment and our communities.  The strategies we adopt are not only consistent with Australia’s state and national standards but, more importantly, heed the call of Jesuit mission on ecology – that is to restore right relationships with creation and to respond to ecological or environmental challenges, “to appreciate more deeply our covenant with creation.” (GC35 D3, 36)

The origins of JSS date back to 1977 when they opened a small hostel for young men after their release from youth justice centres and prisons. This program has grown to provide holistic support services for young people exiting adult prisons and youth justice centres. These young adults are assessed as high risk and high need with limited social and family networks, limited accommodation and post-release support options, and experiencing multiple and complex health problems. Photo Credits: JSS

We are working to ensure that our organisation is sustainable and that our environmental initiatives are integrated into our daily activities.  As such, we are now moving to develop a universal approach to our social justice programs – an approach that recognises the inextricable link between people and their environment.  In a globalised world with a huge, highly geographically dispersed population, we recognise that social justice must embrace the environment with reciprocal notions of eco-justice.  Social justice at any level is difficult to achieve if ‘just’ relations with the environment are not established.

Pope Benedict XVI said in the beginning of 2010, “if you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.  Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.” He went on to say that it is not only the abuses we commit against each other but also our neglect and misuse of the earth and natural resources that threaten peace and authentic human development.  This highlights a deeper dimension to our relation with the environment and not simply an ecological concern.  There is a close link between human development and our accepting responsibility for our environment and for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations.

The Outdoor Experience is for young people who have issued with alcohol and substance use. This program provides numerous and significant opportunities for participants to develop healthy relationships with self, others, and the environment. Photo Credits: JSS

Jesuit Social Services has a “Way of Proceeding” that draws on Jesuit and Ignatian heritage and Catholic Social Teachings to inform all our activity across the domains of our:

1.      Human spirit

2.      Practice framework, and

3.      Business processes

This model can be applied to all aspects of our activity and is relevant at the individual, team, and organisational levels.  It is also the framework we use to understand and drive our engagement with ecology.

The document Our Environmental Way of Proceeding provides us with a framework to guide our approach at Jesuit Social Services.  Components of this framework are gratitude, conversion, responsibility, solidarity, and hope.

Human spirit

Our approach acknowledges that we ourselves need to be transformed and sustained in our commitment to reconciliation with creation.  Fundamental to our approach is our starting point of gratitude for the beauty of creation and all we have been given.  Simply, we are invited to become aware of the ways in which we engage with ourselves, with others and with creation.

JSS has a long history of working with recently arrived immigrants and refugees and disadvantaged communities in Australia. JSS works with these new and emerging communities to enhance social interaction, build capacity, and foster a sense of belonging. Photo Credits: JSS

Practice framework

We seek to establish a community of practice that facilitates the deepening of our environmental commitment and ecological awareness across Jesuit Social Services’ programs.  The effort is to build environmental principles into what is already being undertaken, with advocacy as a key component.  Our hope is to work towards a 21st century model of leadership that addresses the pressing issues of social and ecological justice.

Business processes

As a Jesuit organisation, we seek “to get our house in order” to establish credibility within our community so we can better engage with others.  This is supported by a sustainability plan to ensure environmental awareness is integrated into organisational life, and that management practices and appropriate measures to support this are in place.

Our vision is to “build a just society.”  Our mission, “standing in solidarity with those in need and expressing faith that promotes justice,” is how we do it.  Our values – welcoming, discerning, and courageous – have shaped our first 35 years.  It is these values that we step off from as we go forward into the future towards environmental sustainability.

Julie Edwards. Photo Credits: JSS

Julie Edwards is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Jesuit Social Services-Australia and joined the organisation in 2001.  Prior to her appointment as CEO in June 2004, she was the Program Director.  Julie has over 35 years experience engaging with marginalised people and families experiencing breakdown and trauma.  At present, Julie is a representative of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) for the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN), on the Governance of Natural and Mineral Resources (GNMR) committee.  She is also a member of the core-team of JCAP-Social Apostolate and Ecology.  You may get in touch with her through her email: julie.edwards(at)jss.org.au.

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