Susan Rooney: New CEO takes big strides for St Vincent de Paul Society
By Natashya Fernandez
There’s no doubt that Susan Rooney is perfect for the job as the new CEO of Vinnies, what she is more thrilled about is her first CEO sleep out.
With just over two weeks under her belt and having been with the Cancer Council for some 15 years, Ms Rooney sat down with The eRecord to talk about the move, future plans and her passion for doing what she does – making a difference to people’s lives.
A steep learning curve but still familiar with Vinnies from a very young age, Ms Rooney said that what attracted her most to the role was her upbringing in a Vincentian family.
“Vinnies attracted me because of my family connection to it. My father was president of the conference, my mum worked in the shops, I was in the night patrol and my kids were in the Mini Vinnies. So my whole life, I was engaged at various points in my life.
“But most importantly, I was drawn to the ethos and the people that are engaged in this organisation.
“Working in this kind of organisation appealed to me and to look at the work they were doing in WA and how as a CEO I might be able to help grow that into the future as I’d done when I was with Cancer Council,” she said.
And, if it weren’t for the staff and volunteers who day-in and day-out put in precious time to help others, being a practicing Catholic made the move to Vinnies so much easier.
In-between trying to run an organisation and learn the ropes on the go, Ms Rooney has been quite busy in the two weeks that she’s been in the role. From getting to know the staff to exploring the new state-of-the-art facilities and engaging with the Vincentians, she’s got a keen eye on the organisation’s strategic direction and financial situation going forward.
“It’s a very difficult environment at the moment. We are no different from any other NFP and we are feeling that pinch. So we are looking at where we sit now and considering plans going forward so we can keep the organisation strong financially and ensuring that we are doing the work that we are here to do – to improve people’s lives, restore hope and dignity,” Ms Rooney added.
Speaking highly of their cutting-edge leadership in providing the right supports and services for people suffering from mental illness at their Vincentian Village and offering rest and overnight services at their Tom Fisher House, she said providing this kind of help for marginalised people is what makes her proud to be working for an organisation such as Vinnies.
Still early days for Ms Rooney, she briefly touched on her future plans for the organisation saying that right now her main goal is to ensure financial sustainability into the future.
“So that we can keep doing what we do and eventually grow it. That we continue to ensure that what we do focusses on the person we are assisting. It’s really to consolidate now and then build on what we have into the future.
“In a changing culture and a changing society, what models will work best for us to attract more people to assist with Vinnies and support people in their homes. You have got to continue to evolve in this changing culture, life is very different now to what it was 15 years ago,” she explained.
Touting more similarities than differences between Cancer Council and Vinnies, the one thing that is different she said is working for a Catholic organisation.
“I think some things are very similar – the fantastic volunteers, committed staff and many of the values. For me right now, it’s about re-establishing those relationships in a new organisation. The other big difference for me is working in a Catholic environment and as a practicing Catholic, it’s nice.
“It’s nice to sometimes open a meeting with a prayer. It means I can express another part of myself more openly. I felt very at home very quickly and it was a very welcoming environment,” Ms Rooney said.
With the CEO sleep out imminent, Ms Rooney has nothing but praise for the effort and reach it gets every year.
“This is my first time and I think it’s an extraordinary concept to get people to have an understanding for just one night of what it feels like to be homeless. The important thing about it is that it’s people who are leaders in our society taking responsibility to help give a hand up to people who are in the abyss of homelessness.
“They have taken the responsibility and they don’t have to. Awareness is fabulous and fantastic but it doesn’t pay the bills. So these people who are engaged have tapped their friends and said – this is important to me and I need your financial support. So it’s a fantastic opportunity.
“I am looking forward to meeting people who have been there, front and centre, and to make sure that as a leader in the community, homelessness is something I care about and want to make a difference,” she said.
With plans only to move forward, when asked about Vinnies being her final stop, she was quick to say, No!
“I get great joy working and making a difference to people’s lives. I like being able to have some influence on reaching out –giving a hand up and making a difference. I am just really glad to be here and looking forward to keep Vinnies going strong, well into the future,” she ended.
CEO SLEEPOUT DETAILS:
When: Thursday 22 June 2017
To see the full list of CEO Sleep out participants, to register, sponsor or donate, visit www.ceosleepout.org.au