Leanne Jopson

By Paul O'Rourke

Feeding children, coaxing them out of a tree and into class, helping with hairstyles and hygiene, and encouraging and listening to troubled students struggling with family violence, poverty or isolation are all in a day’s work for chaplain Leanne Jopson (pictured).

“There is no such thing as a typical day,” said Leanne, who has been a chaplain at West Ulverstone Primary School for seven years.

“I respond to what’s happening on any day.

“It’s about being aware of what’s happening and responding.

“Being a chaplain is the ability to form meaningful relationships without an agenda.

“It’s very much a team effort at this school where everyone is fully committed to the families and students in our community.”

Leanne works in partnership with the school social worker, psychologist, principal, and teachers to support families.

Chaplaincy a calling, not a job

Leanne, who has previously worked for child services, as manager of Devonport Magistrates Court, and public housing, said chaplaincy was a “calling and not a job.”

“I got this overwhelming feeling that I had to become a chaplain when I heard Andrew (CEO Andrew Hillier) speak at our church all those years ago.

“A week later, my husband Dave brought home a brochure about chaplaincy and I saw there was a vacancy at West Ulverstone.

“I knew that community from my work with public housing and knew that’s where I was supposed to be.”

The mother and grandmother is a familiar, welcomed, and calming presence within a community of great need. People know she cares and follows through.

She’s quick with a hug, a smile, a cup of Milo, a game of basketball, or a toasted sandwich.

Leanne says one of her key roles is to make children feel loved, connected, and prepared to face high school.

“There are many issues, from poverty and family violence to social disconnection because of gaming and substance abuse,” she said.

“Numbers at the daily breakfast program have been growing. We average about 40 students from a school population of 140.

One child ate 15 slices of toast

“I watched one young person eat 15 pieces of toast one morning.

“We have children who come to school unwashed, who haven’t slept and are hungry.

“Or they are eating lots of two-minute noodles.

“That’s concerning for me. If they don’t get the food they need, they can’t learn.”

Such is her dedication to West Ulverstone, Leanne has served on a project team to develop a Child and Family Learning Centre on the school grounds to assist families who often miss out on vital services because of isolation.

She is proud to serve the school community.

Leanne said the school’s warm and welcoming culture started at the top with principal Angela McAuliffe.

“I don’t know anyone who works harder or cares more,” she said.

“She has been instrumental in resetting the values and vision of the school in consultation with the community.”

Angela McAuliffe said Leanne was “invaluable” to the school through her varied roles depending on need.

“She’s a social worker to one family, a friend to a staff member, and a safe person and support to students,” Angela said.

“We get calls from parents and Leanne is the only person they will speak to.

“The role is a flexible one that works to the chaplain’s unique strengths.

“Leanne’s greatest strength is her ability to develop strong relationships and help students feel loved and valued.”

Tilly and Ian enjoy a quiet breakfast before the busy school day begins at West Ulverstone. The breakfast program is available to all students so as not to create a stigma around attending.