October 2023

In this edition, learn more about the SESU’s new community-initiated research projects. We share news about several recently completed projects, where you can hear about the impacts of COVID-19 for those accessing social services; using participatory action research to empower NDIS service users; the impact of community-led peer support groups for preschool Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their mothers; a school-based program that boosts wellbeing, connection and educational outcomes for refugee and asylum seeker young people; and a program to raise awareness of modern slavery amongst ACU undergraduates. You will also learn more about the impacts being achieved for migrants and refugees in western Sydney based on a completed SESU project, information about the upcoming DePaul-ACU Conference on Community Engagement, Service Learning and Solidarity, and much more.

Learn more about SESU

Congratulations to the successful applicants from our 2023 round

We are very pleased to announce the organisations which were successful in their applications to partner with the SESU in our 2023 Expressions of Interest (EOI) round. The last few months have produced some very fruitful conversations with our new partners as we activate the below projects. Please join us in congratulating the Black Pearl Network and Life’s Little Treasures Foundation!

Black Pearl Network: Addressing stunting and improving nutritional practices in West Papua, Indonesia


Black Pearl Network
, who provide community development, health and English language programs to local Papuan children and adults, seek to reduce stunting of children and malnourishment amongst the Indigenous populations of the Papuan provinces of Indonesia. The project will focus on removing the barriers to healthy eating practices and improving local peoples’ nutritional knowledge and practices, including knowledge on the benefits of local foods. This project will measure current community awareness of healthy nutritional practices by surveying the communities Black Pearl Network work with within Nabire. The findings will support the Black Pearl Network and their partners to tailor appropriate advocacy and educational strategies to the local community.

Meet the project team

  • Rev. Dr. Robert Hoskin - Floreat Uniting Church Creative Living Centre board member
  • Mr. Ross Gobby - Black Pearl Network co-founder and member
  • Mr. Fred Bundah - Manager, Black Pearl Papua Foundation
  • Dr. Henni Marei - Black Pearl Papua Foundation member
  • Ms. Kerry Povey - Black Pearl Network member
  • Dr. Isabelle Lys - School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, ACU
  • Assoc. Prof. Natasha Franklin - School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, ACU
  • Assoc. Prof. Sharon Croxford - School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, ACU
Life’s Little Treasures Foundation: Improving outcomes for families with a sick or premature baby


Life’s Little Treasures Foundation
, which supports over 22,000 families with premature and sick babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) and Special Care Units (SCU) across Australia each year, aim to evaluate the impact of their products and services provided to families with a sick or premature child. Through a literature review, survey and focus groups involving the Foundation’s families, this project will seek to establish the mental health impacts for parents with a premature or sick baby in the NICU or SCU, and the factors that positively impact parents’ and families’ wellbeing – including the value of having access to peer support. The project will also seek to understand families’ experiences of the support provided by Life’s Little Treasures Foundation. The findings of the evaluation will be used to inform Life’s Little Treasures Foundation’s products and services in the future and support their education and advocacy efforts to improve outcomes for parents and families.

Meet the project team

  • Ms. Felicia Welstead - CEO, Life’s Little Treasures Foundation
  • Ms. Maggie Lloyd - National Services Manager, Life’s Little Treasures Foundation
  • Ms. Amy Baker - Special Projects Coordinator, Life’s Little Treasures Foundation
  • Dr. Anna Cooper – School of Allied Health, ACU
  • Dr Judith Hough – School of Allied Health, ACU
  • Assoc. Prof. Laura Miller - School of Allied Health, ACU



Introducing our new collaboration with the Order of Malta

The Order of Malta Study Program






The Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order, is one of the oldest institutions in Western and Christian civilisation. The members of the Order are committed to achieving spiritual perfection within the Church and to dedicating their energies to serving the poor and the sick. The Australian Association of the Order is developing and planning to pilot an online course aimed at providing resources for its members to study the Hospitaller tradition as the history of the Order represents a pilgrimage of faith and charity.

 The Order of Malta Study Program is designed to offer a structured resource to deepen members' understanding of the Order's history, mission, and spiritual practices. These practices include a dedication to both the Catholic faith and to the service of the sick and poor. The Program aims to foster personal development in members, aspirants, and volunteers, equipping them with practical and theological skills. These skills will empower them to fulfil the Order's service-oriented mission in the world. Offered online, the course will initially be piloted and evaluated with Australian members of the Order.

The Program will remain accessible as an ongoing resource, serving as a long-term educational and spiritual tool for both current and aspiring members. Evaluation findings will be utilised to support the future development of the self-study Program and its potential expansion beyond the Australian context.

Meet the project team

  • Assoc. Prof. Darius von Güttner, Campus Dean (Canberra), ACU
  • Mr Scott Samson, Order of Malta (Australia)
  • Mr Daniel Kwok, Order of Malta (Australia)

Creating impact for communities experiencing disadvantage: Spotlight on recently completed SESU projects


Hear about the findings from several projects that the SESU recently completed with its partners, each designed to improve outcomes for communities and individuals experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation.




How did COVID-19 impact people needing social service supports, frontline workers, and community organisations?

How did people access social services for support as COVID emerged? What helped or hindered? Did the level of support they received have an impact on mental health? How did the crisis affect frontline social service workers?

The Jesuit Refugee Service Australia and St Vincent de Paul Society NSW asked these questions as the COVID pandemic unfolded in NSW. They wanted to better understand the experiences of people who needed support from community services during the pandemic in 2020. They also wanted to explore how frontline workers who supported them were impacted.

They worked with ACU researchers from the School of Arts and the Institute for Child Protection Studies to uncover the numerous challenges service users encountered during COVID. For those who were unemployed or earned less than the minimum wage, and people on temporary visas, the pandemic added to their existing financial precarity. Others experienced new hardship and needed to seek help for the first time. Service users reported that social isolation significantly impacted their mental health and for some, compounded existing situations of domestic violence.

Community organisations acted quickly under strained conditions to implement short-term crisis responses, yet they often weren’t properly resourced to offer longstanding solutions, while coping with a significant increase in demand for their services. Frontline workers showed great dedication to their work to deliver person-centred responses while supporting clients remotely. The biggest challenge they faced was having to provide services beyond what they were funded or qualified to provide, such as grief counselling.

We learnt that when services are not adequately resourced to meet the level of need, this has a significant impact on the psychological well-being of frontline workers. Read more about our findings here, and how they point to the need for public policy reform. The Jesuit Refugee Service Australia and St Vincent de Paul Society NSW believe that with reform, governments and community service organisations can better meet the needs of potentially vulnerable cohorts in the event of a future pandemic or other major crises, such as natural disasters.



Using participatory action research to empower NDIS service users

Those living with psychosocial disability face significant marginalisation in the Australian community – often dealing with mental illness, homelessness, discrimination, physical illnesses and pronounced economic and social disadvantage. St Mary’s House of Welcome offer services to people with a psychosocial disability under the NDIS.

However, they experienced challenges in keeping people engaged in their programs. So they collaborated with researchers in ACU’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine to give voice to people with a psychosocial disability as ‘participant consultants’ to the study. What supported and hindered their participation in the NDIS psychosocial disability program?

We learnt there were a range of personal and service-level barriers determining the extent to which people were able to engage with the program. Some highlighted memory problems, the effects of substance use, schedule clashes, and social stigmas attached to psychosocial disability. There were also structural barriers at the service-level that affected participation, such as changeover in staff, perceptions of safety and the type or timing of available activities.

However, they believed that the program provided opportunities to develop stable routines, increased emotional connection, and independence, and suggested that greater inclusivity and choice in activities would support their continued participation in the future.

These experiences and ideas led to a new quality framework for St Mary’s, which has already begun implementing it into the program. They have also hired a dedicated program coordinator responsible for activating the recommendations.

The findings, which can be read here, were also presented at the report launch in May this year, co-hosted by St Mary’s and ACU, where stakeholders from the NDIS sector heard directly about the impact of the program from an NDIS service user with a psychosocial disability.

Since the launch, the findings have been used by the Victorian Council of Social Services (VCOSS) in their advocacy on the NDIS as evidence of what works in effectively engaging NDIS users with a psychosocial disability, such as in their submission to the Independent NDIS review. In this way, the report findings have added to the evidence base on what people with a psychosocial disability want from their care programs.




The importance of healing in culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their mothers

Gunawirra’s Young Aboriginal Mothers’ Program is a set of community-led peer support groups that aim to improve the health and educational outcomes of preschool Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by providing healing through culture and art and access to therapy and health specialists for mothers and children. An interdisciplinary research team was formed to evaluate this project – it brough together staff from Gunawirra and researchers from ACU’s Schools of Education and Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, as well as ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education.

The evaluation captured mothers’ experiences of the program, its impact on their daily lives, and the how effective it was in redressing the cycle of intergenerational trauma. We used a combination of Indigenous and Western qualitative methodologies to build culturally safe relationships with the women and to centre their experiences of the program.

Mothers described Gunawirra as a supportive, flexible and inclusive service which gave individualised care for their children, and increased the mothers’ social connection, self-esteem, and bonding with their children within a safe environment. The cultural activities were a highlight – giving the mothers and their children the chance to increase their knowledge, connection to and pride in their culture. Many of the women also described Gunawirra as a family, providing holistic support from highly skilled, flexible, and culturally connected staff. The mothers’ recommendations for the program’s future operation were also included in the final report, which can be read here.

The project was not just beneficial to the Gunawirra team, it also impacted the ACU researchers. Research Fellow, Dr Georgia Durmush, shared the personal and professional benefits she received from her time collaborating with Gunawirra.

‘It has been an honour to work closely with Gunawirra! Graham and the team were so lovely and easy to work with…I found it really rewarding as an Aboriginal researcher working closely with Gunawirra and contributing to research that will make a positive impact’, she said. ‘A highlight for me culturally was visiting Gunawirra and making life long community connections - this project is one of my proudest projects I have worked on in my career to date!’.




Boosting wellbeing, community connection and educational outcomes for refugee and asylum seeker young people in Geelong

CatholicCare Victoria offers the Geelong-based Settle Well program – a school-based program that facilitates the transition to further education, training or employment for young refugees and asylum seekers at risk of disengagement from school and community life. They joined an interdisciplinary team of researchers from ACU’s Schools of Behavioural and Health Sciences, Arts and Business to evaluate the extent to which the Settle Well program has been effective in improving the well-being and connectedness of students. They wanted to test whether it enhances their educational, social and communal engagement, and contributes to social cohesion and community harmony in northern Geelong.

We learnt that that Settle Well positively supports participants’ wellbeing and their connectedness to school and community life during their schooling years. The majority of past student participants reported that Settle Well helped them to form friendships, stay involved with life inside and outside of school, and boost their sense of belonging in their community.

The report also shows the longer-term positive impacts to educational, social, and communal engagement, and to social cohesion and community harmony, suggesting that Settle Well plays an important role in assisting with the resettlement and adjustment of asylum seekers and refugee young people in Victoria. The integral role played by the Program Coordinator stood out in the research. He supported and provided pathways for students and was pivotal in assisting them to be job ready, choose an appropriate career pathway and achieve long-term goals in career and education. Students said that he helped them to feel welcome and confident, which enhanced their mental health, general wellbeing and connectedness with school and community life.

Chris McNamara, General Manager of Community Participation at CatholicCare Victoria, said that the research helped to confirm their thoughts about the future of the program and what elements help to make the program a success.

‘Through this experience, we have learnt a lot of new skills and we have a fantastic evaluation report that we can present to potential funding bodies and government to help us to expand the program into other regional areas of Victoria’, he said.




Modern anti-slavery training for the future workforce

The Anti-Slavery Taskforce of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and ACU’s School of Theology joined forces to introduce modern slavery to ACU students before they embark on their professional journeys. Students needed to be able to identify and respond to severe forms of exploitation and slavery-related crimes prior to graduating as they may encounter these in the workforce and their personal lives.

They co-designed modern slavery resources for ACU’s Core Curriculum, which all undergraduate students participate in as part of their ACU degree program. Through a new bespoke suite of videos, students were introduced to experts in modern slavery, including a survivor who shared his personal story for the first time on film. The materials were piloted with 772 enrolled students in Semester 2, 2022.

Students were surveyed before and after learning about modern slavery and we found they had an awareness of modern slavery, however, not a deep understanding. While their moral obligations were underdeveloped, students had empathy for this social issue similar to the importance they might place on issues such as gender discrimination and climate change.

The Anti-Slavery Taskforce are working with others in the wider anti-slavery sector to ensure the new learning resources are shared widely to increase public knowledge of modern slavery and how to respond to it.

SESU research accelerates employment for migrants and refugees









On Wednesday 11 October, 250 migrants and refugees in Western Sydney joined the Employment Accelerator in Blacktown to meet with 12 prospective employers across the health and care, construction, transport and logistics, and retail sectors.

The event sped up the usual job seeking process – by directly giving job seekers opportunities to interview for or express interest in current job vacancies on the day. Job seekers grew their employment networks, received advice on recognition of prior learning and feedback to support them in their employment journeys.

The event was an initiative of the recently established Sydney Greater West CALD and Migrant Working Group, comprising of many organisations across a range of industries in western Sydney – education, social services, and government. ACU has been an active member of the working group, committed to improving employment outcomes for migrants and refugees in western Sydney.

Both the event and the working group were recommendations of the SESU’s community-based research conducted last year in partnership with SydWest Multicultural Services. The full research report can be found here.


What’s coming up?


Join us for the DePaul University, Chicago and ACU bi-annual Conference on Community Engagement, Service Learning and Solidarity.

Learn about innovative and best practice approaches to partnerships between universities and community organisations for societal change.

Among the conference highlights are the:

  • Keynote address from Dr María Nieves Tapia, who has an extensive career in service learning and is the founder and Director of the Centro Latinoamericano de Aprendizaje y Servicio Solidario (CLAYSS)
  • Student panel presentation led by students from both universities, where they will share with is their experiences of working with community as part of their service learning and community engagement placements
  • Plenaries on evaluation and scholarship; community-engaged research; and advocacy, activism and solidarity.

Many of the sessions in Chicago will be available online for those viewing in Australia. Join us from 2-4 November AEDT with free conference registration.


SESU projects in the media

Slavery survivor who became a campaigner wins Freedom Award

ACU students learn how to fight modern slavery

Ten tips to help older people deal with loneliness and isolation

Ageing expert’s advice to beat social isolation

Catholics called to share God’s life-giving message at Brisbane preaching school



Would research benefit your programs or services? The next round of applications to the SESU will open early next year

The SESU will call for EOIs from community organisations again in our 2024 round, due to open in early 2024.

If you work with communities experiencing disadvantage we’d love to hear about the research that matters to you.

You’ll be notified when the call for EOIs opens, but until then read on for information about our application process.

Organisations may put forward applications for one or both types of project:

a) Organisation-specific project: a project that aims to inform, evaluate or enhance one of your programs or services; or

b) Sector project: a project that aims to address a broad or systemic issue that multiple organisations face in the community sector.

The SESU is designed to support projects that can be completed within a period of 12-18 months from their start date. However, if you have a larger project in mind, we recommend you consider segmenting the project into smaller phases and submitting an EOI that focuses on the first phase of the project.

If you are considering submitting an EOI, we encourage you to begin by reading our online FAQs. Here you will find application guidelines—including how EOIs will be assessed—information that will help you determine whether your project is a good fit for the SESU, and tips on submitting a competitive EOI. You will also find information on the kinds of contributions your organisation will be expected to make to the project, which you will be asked about in the EOI form.


How else can ACU support you?

Could ACU provide support to your organisation in areas other than research?

Do you have volunteer opportunities or programs ACU students or staff could support with? Or do you have clients who may not have had or completed a formal education and would like to?

ACU Engagement supports partnerships with community for positive social outcomes. Read on to engage with some of ACU’s flagship community engagement programs.

The power of the creative arts for intergenerational connections: Seniors and young people come together to enjoy the arts through ACU’s community engagement placement program


The COVID pandemic and its restrictions brought it with it a range of challenges including much isolation and loneliness. ‘Connection Through Creativity’ is a program working against the social impacts of the pandemic. Through the creative arts, it fosters connections for seniors from multicultural communities and young adults.

With funding from the NSW government, Good Neighbours Australia and ACU launched a series of art classes for seniors and university students across western Sydney. It champions the therapeutic value of the arts and recognises that profound connections can be made when people are brought together to learn new skills.

‘You have to smile when you paint, see? It helps you to relax and make these brushstrokes smoother,’ said Eterio Herrera, a member of the classes at age 66, while working on his latest artwork.

‘I have never done painting in my life before but I’m enjoying this, it’s something fun to do and I’m learning at the same time’, he said.

Placement opportunities such as these for ACU undergraduate students contribute a unique learning opportunity while giving students the chance to have a direct impact in the wider community.

‘I like learning from their experiences and getting to know what they have learnt from life’, said Ashleigh Stacey, a primary education student at ACU.

Belinda Dona of Good Neighbours said the number of seniors in the program was increasing on a weekly basis.

‘They’re not only getting out of the house, being active and making friends, they’re learning new skills and being an art activity it is easier for them to engage if there is a bit of a language issue,’ she said.

Caroline Allen of ACU said, ‘It is important to us that we develop reciprocal relationships with communities and community service organisations, so together we can work to provide better outcomes for people facing disadvantage or marginalisation’.

‘Community organisations have the opportunity to invite our students to join their organisations through their community engagement placement. Our students come from a range of courses including allied health, social work, arts and humanities and business to name a few’, she said.

Organisations interested in explore placement ideas with ACU should contact the ACU Engagement team.

Our staff give time and expertise to community organisations through our community engagement time release policy

ACU is committed to providing our staff the opportunity to contribute to their local communities, especially in ways that benefit people experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation. We provide staff the option to dedicate five of their workdays in support of non-profit and community service organisations.

To discuss the support you need, please contact the ACU Engagement team.

Become involved in the Clemente Australia program and support learners within our communities who are pursuing a liberal arts education

Learning and teaching partnerships, Clemente Australia, 2023

The Clemente Australia program is celebrating 20 years of participation, partnership and learner success this year, providing opportunities for people within our communities to engage in university-level liberal arts education to empower their lives and transform their communities. Now recruiting for 2024, join us in one of our Clemente Australia programs in Ballarat, Blacktown, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne or Surry Hills.

Join us as a volunteer: A key to the success of the Clemente program is the involvement of our volunteer learning partners who help students to achieve their learning goals. Both the students and the volunteers learn from their experiences and interactions with one another. Clemente learning partners come from a variety of backgrounds—education, community and business. Learning partners bring with them diverse, rich life and career experiences and skills. Become a learning partner.

Join us in partnership to support and facilitate our programs: Critical to the Clemente Australia program are our long term, sustainable and reciprocal partnerships with community organisations. Together, we work to build program reach and meet student needs. ACU invites community, government and business organisations as our partners through contributions of time, talent, influence, and/or resources. Partner with Clemente.

Clemente Australia acknowledges with thanks, its current partners- CatholicCare Victoria, The City of Ballarat, The Ballarat Foundation, Federation University, St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra and Goulburn, St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland, Sisters of Mercy, Micah Projects, City of Yarra and Mission Australia, Surry Hills Sydney

Join us as a student: Clemente Australia encourages people aged 18 – 80 to restart their education through the program. We welcome students from all backgrounds and communities who have experienced barriers/challenges in their lives that have interrupted their education or prevented them from achieving their learning goals. If you would like to refer a student or to discuss student recruitment please contact the Clemente team who will connect you with a program near you.

“Before starting Clemente, I had lost faith in myself and my abilities. This course helped me gain self-confidence again. The critical thinking skills I learn really helped me to deal with some of my anxiety issues in life.” (Clemente student)

If you are interested in learning more about the Clemente Program at ACU either as a Partner, a Volunteer, a Learning Partner or as a student, please contact the Clemente team.

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