St Vincent de Paul Society may be best known for its charity initiatives – and its sustainable fashion – but it’s also a thriving part of the Australian music industry.
Rarely covered by media and even more rarely publicised by Vinnies itself, its Ozanam Learning Centre (OLC) Music Studio opened in 2008 to concentrate on providing real options and pathways out of homelessness.
The daily focus centres around music (it even hosts a Drum Circle on Monday nights), but through self-expression, the Studio equips participants with the tools and support necessary to create real change.
Located on Forbes Street in Darlinghurst Sydney, the OLC Music Studio has played host to a few big names in the ten years since its inception:
Seal visited the OLC in 2012 during his time as a judge for The Voice; Rick Grossman (Divinyls, Hoodoo Gurus) has helped run a songwriting workshop for the past two years; and singer, songwriter, guitarist and composer for shows like Mythbusters and Saturday Night Live, Mike Caen – whose collaborators include Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Rod Stewart – volunteers his time regularly.
Free to men and women 18 years and older, the OLC runs over 40 activities per week, including TAFE accredited courses, therapeutic and recovery based programs, and professional services, with approximately 120 people accessing the service daily.
Vlad Nestorovski, Music Coordinator at the OLC, entered the philanthropy sector ten years ago with a passion for music and helping people. As Vlad tells TIO, his decade-long experience in counselling, and producing, writing and recording music were a perfect mix when he discovered the music studio in the OLC.
“As opportunity would have it, my qualifications and passions lined up and an opportunity to coordinate the music program at the OLC presented itself and I haven’t looked back since,” he says. “It is certainly a unique opportunity that speaks to my greatest passions.”
Built in consultation with the people it assists, the OLC Music Studio provides performance, recording, education and development opportunities, using industry standard equipment in a safe environment.
“Music has long been recognised as a great way to give a voice to those who would
otherwise remain unheard,” says Vlad. “[… The program] helps to create positive consumer engagement that increases participation of vulnerable people in community activities, helping to restore and build upon participants’ self-esteem and sense of self-efficacy.”
The OLC itself was founded as an early intervention centre. It supports people who are at imminent risk of homelessness or those who need social inclusion programs.
“The OLC Music Program is designed to teach self-expression, foster self-determination and
build upon self-esteem, while providing an emotional outlet for participants,” says Vlad. “Through music, participants are encouraged to discover creative and positive outlets that act as a catalyst for
real and lasting change.”
Musician Terry discovered the Studio through Vinnies’ Ability Links program, its free service promoting inclusion in the community. Terry had been discharged from a mental health facility with issues around suicidal ideations when he told his social worker about his passion for songwriting.
His social worker helped him set up an online presence, complete with promo photos, a “Bandcamp” webpage, a band email and Facebook page, and single and album covers. He has since recorded several songs at the OLC Music Studio.
Watch Terry discuss his music below:
On June 19, the OLC will host a Music Show to showcase the variety of music talent who utilise the Studio. Vinnies is offering Coles/Myer Vouchers as prizes on the night.
It should be noted that Vinnies is open to deepening its relationship with the music industry if it benefits the people it assists. Mushroom Group, which is located a stone’s throw away from the OLC in Darlinghurst, has donated concert tickets in the past, offering live music experiences to those in recovery.
ARIA CEO Dan Rosen is also one of the top fundraisers of Vinnies’ annual CEO Sleepout. On June 21, Rosen will join other leaders in business, community and government to sleep without shelter on one of the longest winter nights of the year.
Rosen has raised over $8,000 to help break the devastating cycle of homelessness, contributing to the over $2.5 million that’s been raised so far.
“This will be my second year attending the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, and I expect to gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing people experiencing homelessness,” Rosen tells TIO. “The stories shared on the night from people with real lived-experience have stayed with me since my first Sleepout.
“The realisation that homelessness can happen to anyone is a powerful reality-check that I hope we can all learn from, to improve our empathy and understanding for those less fortunate.”
“Music is much more than just entertainment,” he adds. “It has the power to speak to all people who are going through pain, trauma, and difficult times. The power of music can be used to help heal those who have been through some terrible experiences in their life, something that the music department at Vinnies Ozanam Learning Centre has well and truly embraced.
“Music therapy is now well understood as a means to significantly improve a person’s well-being and mental health and it is wonderful to see it being used by Vinnies as an empowering tool for the people they assist.
Rosen says that while music alone isn’t going to solve the homelessness crisis, it can be a helpful connector to a supportive community.
“Making music gives people, who society often ignores, a voice and a power to express themselves and be able to focus on positive, constructive goals while going through tough times,” he says.