Our Lady of Mercy Catholic College Burraneer has found a perfect antidote to the self-focused influence of social media in a community service program that gives all its students the chance to step out of their comfort zone and become world changers.

In February, the college introduced Mercy Service, which asks students in Years 7 to 10 complete at least 10 hours of community service or social justice work each year.

The program complements the work of the College’s volunteer student-led Mercy Action Group (MAG). The group makes regular visits to Stella Maris Aged Care in Cronulla, supports community fundraisers and local and global outreach projects, including community dinners with physically disabled and socially isolated residents and knitting blanket squares for women at fistula hospitals in Ethiopia.

Girls get bombarded with negative expectations and images on social media and can become very narrow in their outlook 

– Lisa Overton

Teacher and Mercy Action Leader Lisa Overton said the group, initiated by Sisters of Mercy who founded the school, was an ingrained part of school life. Students’ involvement was diverse and highlighted their passion for and commitment to helping others.

“We’re seeing more girls participating in the community – things like walking the dog for their neighbor because she’s had a hip replacement, or doing a few extra shifts at the surf club,” she said.

“These days, girls get bombarded with negative expectations and images on social media and can become very narrow in their outlook. Having a mercy outlook with a main aim of helping others is hugely beneficial for the community and for the students. While they’re out volunteering and interacting with others, they’re taking their minds off their own lives and any negative self-talk.”

Being part of MAG is really important to me because it means I get to help the community

– Charlotte Franks-Pearson

Mrs Overton said the aim was for students to be ‘world changers’ – a proactive and positive influence in the lives of others. Many OLMC graduates continue the call well after graduation, supporting the St Vincent de Paul’s Night Patrol service to feed the homeless as Year 11 and 12 students at De La Salle Catholic Senior College Cronulla. Others have supported flood-affected schools in Queensland and orphanages in South East Asia when travelling for work.

“A solid understanding of mercy is part of being a mercy girl or woman,” she said. “It’s in their consciousness to do what little they can, even if it’s not through an organised structure. We want it to stay with them their whole lives so they are always socially aware and kind to others.”

Charlotte Franks-Pearson is among the Mercy Action Group’s Year 9 members.

“Being part of MAG is really important to me because it means I get to help the community,” she said. “It really does make you more grateful for what you do have. As teenagers, it’s so easy to be self-focused. Mercy hours bring you out of yourself so you realise what others are going through and become more aware of ways to help them.”

Students speak

Year 9 Mercy action Group members share what their favourite mercy value is, and why.

Esperance Coppleson: “The ones that resonate with me the most are kindness and compassion because there is so much hate in the world, especially at the moment with the school shootings in the US. It’s really important to be a part of a community and show kindness and compassion to others.”

Sarah Wellington: “I think excellence is important. Excellence isn’t just about being good within and for yourself, it’s about helping others; finding what you are good at and giving it your very best.”

Charlotte Franks-Pearson: “My favourite mercy value is compassion because it is about seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and being able to help them in a personal way.”

Jessica Eadie: “Hospitality is important and having empathy. It allows you to show people you care and be there when they need it.”