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Mission Champion: Mary

Volunteer Mary in swimming pool leaning on edge

23 May 2018

Take a stroll to Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC) on a Friday and you might meet Mary Chow.

Each week, Mary volunteers with Sacred Heart Mission teaching our clients how to swim.

The Mission offers swimming lessons as part of Kick Start, our wellbeing and activities program.

Mary can teach up to eight students, though she has four regulars who come back every Friday.

Mary is a lifetime volunteer. She lived in Maryborough for most of her adult life with five kids and now 20 grandkids, but always found time to help out with the Parents and Friends Association and the Mothers’ Club in Maryborough.

Mary’s Sacred Heart Mission story started back in 2005, after she moved to Melbourne.

“I had few hours to spare and wanted to give back to the community here, so I signed up to volunteer in the Dining Hall.”

Mary volunteered at the Mission until 2008, when a family illness sadly meant she had to take a short hiatus. Mary’s granddaughter, Leila Rose, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and passed away at 21 months old. Mary dedicated herself to the Leila Rose Foundation based in Warrnambool, which assists families affected by rare childhood cancer, and continues to volunteer there today.

When Mary returned to Sacred Heart Mission, she started volunteering at our Hands on Health clinic. She was there for about four years until last year, when health and wellbeing manager Nigel told her about the swimming program.

Since then, Mary has been in the pool each week, assisting learner swimmers with a variety of abilities. Though most know the basics, she currently has one client who had never swam before.

“It started with teaching her how to float, but now she’s swimming 25 metres,” Mary explains with great enthusiasm.

At Sacred Heart Mission, we take a holistic approach to our work with clients. We recognise the importance of physical health for our clients and the difference this can make in their road to recovery.

Better physical health can promote our clients’ sense of self-worth and self-esteem, which leads to improved mental health and engagement in other wellbeing activities.

For Mary, the most important part of the swimming program is that clients can go and enjoy themselves. She loves to see clients improve their confidence - both in and out of the pool.

“It’s great to get in the water and have fun for an hour,” she says. “Quite a community has gathered around the swimming program, I think it helps people to be more social.”

As for her own swimming journey, Mary learnt in Port Fairy as a child. She has always loved being in the water and the feeling of freedom it brings.

She taught swimming in Maryborough back in the 70s, in a kids’ swim program sponsored by the Herald Sun.

“Apart from that I don’t have any qualifications,” she laughs. “I’ve never won a race, I just like teaching people how to swim.”

We are always on the lookout for people like Mary, whose interests and enthusiasm for teaching and supporting others can help to transform lives.


Sacred Heart Mission respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate our services. We pay our respects to the ongoing living cultures of Aboriginal peoples, and to Elders past, present and future.
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