Sherrie joined CatholicCare Western Sydney and The Blue Mountains in 2018, starting work as a tutor with HIPPY Emerton, a home interaction-based education and parenting program for families. In 2020 , she began a traineeship as an Aboriginal caseworker, with the Family Support Program. Sherrie will be a qualified Aboriginal caseworker by the end of 2022.
“My role is to help those who are struggling – whatever they’re facing,” Sherrie said. “It could be anything from helping people cope with mental health, navigate child custody issues, teaching parenting skills, or helping someone find their purpose in life. The number one thing I teach, however, is self-care. I help my clients understand how to support themselves so they can be strong for their loved ones. You can’t help others if you haven’t taken care of yourself first.”
A light in the dark – A sister’s love
“I grew up in a rough family. My mother had schizophrenia and my father was an alcoholic. I was partially deaf until I was 16. I didn’t know any better; I was happy. I had several operations over the years to restore my hearing and after my last operation at 16, I could hear again. Being partially deaf had affected my learning, but as a teenager, I taught myself to read and write for the first time.”
As Sherrie picked up a pen and paper, her sister, Sarah, was by her side.
“Sarah and I were really close. She was very smart and an incredibly spiritual person. Sarah helped me learn to read – we read the bible together eight times, scripture by scripture.”
Sherrie’s restored hearing gave her a new mechanism through which she could interpret the world. However, she discovered a reality she only wanted to withdraw from.
“Being able to hear took a toll on me. I wasn’t happy with how people voiced their opinions all the time. I didn’t want to listen anymore. It made me want to go back to being deaf. That’s why I consumed drugs and alcohol. I wanted to escape.”
Lost in a dark place, it was her sister’s shared words of scripture that presented the seeds of Sherrie’s faith in herself, and in God. After leaving school, Sherrie and Sarah moved to Wagga Wagga to live with their grandmother. Then, in 2016, Sarah sadly became very ill with cancer and, tragically, passed away at the age of 32.
“My sister was everything to me, I was devastated. Sarah had helped me turn my life around. All throughout my beautiful sister’s life, she had been working to assist others. Her clients came up to me and said, ‘Sherrie, if it wasn’t for Sarah, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would not have a family, a home or a nice car, if I had not listened to your beautiful sister.’ We would cry together and laugh together. It took a while before I realised that Sarah’s work was something I could do too.”
The journey on
In search of a fresh start after her sister’s passing, Sherrie moved to Sydney and found herself living in a women’s refuge in Penrith. Sherrie found permanent accommodation, but her struggles continued, until a moment that changed her life. Around Christmas Eve, 2017, Sherrie lay in bed with her two young children, crying and praying. The small room contained her family’s only possessions: a mattress and an esky. In this moment of need, Sherrie clasped her hands together and prayed for the opportunity to help others; a chance to continue her sister’s work.
Sherrie lifted herself up and walked with her children to their local Holy Family Church. Sherrie noticed the Aboriginal CatholicCare Social Services Centre behind the church where she was collecting a Christmas hamper.
“A lady named Linda offered me another hamper; a Christmas hamper filled with toys. Linda offered an opportunity to work with HIPPY at Emerton. We got talking and she signed me up for a HIPPY Program, explaining to me there was an opportunity for some work with HIPPY Emerton. I couldn’t believe it; my prayers had been answered. I was overwhelmed with tears. This proved to me the strength of prayer.”
With every step that followed, Sherrie drew inspiration from her sister. However, she also discovered that she herself had the qualities needed to make a difference.
“My sister was amazing in what she did for the community. Sarah inspired me to follow this new path but I realised it was natural to me – I’ve been caring for people on the streets all my life without even realising it. I’ve had people in and out of my home, over the years. I’ve helped them overcome issues – come off drugs and alcohol or get their children back. They’ve become dear friends. They may not see me for two years, but if they were down and out, they know I’d be there for them.”