Mission Champion: Dave Holland

3 October 2018
Op shop volunteer Dave Holland

This is Dave Holland’s story; a story which, at a time, didn’t seem like it would have a happy ending. Dave’s story is one of strength, courage and the role people and community play in supporting recovery.

Five months after a severe accident Dave started his volunteering journey

“Don’t worry, mate, I’ve seen much worse. You’ll be alright, we’ll put you back together.”

Even though Dave Holland was blind at this point – one eye covered in blood, the other pulled from its socket – he remembers a figure hovering over his injured body, reassuring him he would be okay.

Dave is one of our op shop volunteers, and has been for 14 years. His stint started not long after he endured a horrific workplace accident, where his skull was maimed by an auger.

“I was in and out of the hospital trauma ward for 12 months. The staff there provided me with extraordinary treatment,” Dave says.

At the time of the accident, Dave was told he might not have long to live. Faced with his own mortality, he felt a powerful urge to give back.

It was only five months on from his accident when he started volunteering at the Mission’s Dining Hall, then moved across to our op shops. A few days a week, he would summon his energy, push past the immense pain, and commit his time to serving customers in our Windsor op shop.

Fortunately for Dave, he had not acquired any kind of brain injury from the accident, but his entire life had been turned upside. He was living with immense physical and emotional trauma, separating from his partner, and trying to understand where he fit.

“At that time, the only people I spoke to were the psychiatric staff at the hospital and the staff and volunteers at Sacred Heart Mission,” Dave says.

“If I hadn’t had them, I could have gone down a dark path.”

A few years ago, Dave was asked to appear in a newspaper. The journalist gathered everyone who had been a part of his story on that fateful day, including the figure – a man named Barry – who had stood above him as he lay, dying.

Dave remembers pacing up and down, trying to move the nerves through his system, until the journalist came to usher him through. He spotted the figure from across the room – it was Barry.

Dave thanked Barry for the words he had spoken; the hope had provided: ‘Don’t worry, mate, I’ve seen much worse. You’ll be alright, we’ll put you back together.’ Barry looked at him for a moment in disbelief and finally responded, ‘I have thought that sentence so many times, but I’ve never said it aloud.’

“When you die – and I had been pronounced dead at the time – you acquire this new level of knowledge, and you become incredibly aware of others and how they are feeling,” Dave explains.

Working towards social inclusion

What Dave describes is more than empathy. It’s the antithesis of what he believes to be the cause of many of our social problems; disassociation.

“We have real problems in our society with inclusion. The more we disassociate ourselves from others, from believing we are so different from people sleeping rough or experiencing social disadvantage, the worse off our society will be,” Dave says.

“We need to work towards a system which people are a part of, rather than a system that keeps them out.”

At Sacred Heart Mission, social inclusion is one of the five outcomes we work towards with our clients. We also support social inclusion through our dedicated social inclusion workers at our long-term accommodation sites in St Kilda, Reservoir and Thomastown.

For some, social inclusion can mean mending relationships with family and friends. For others, it can be reconnecting with their community.

An ongoing journey to recovery

For Dave, ‘social inclusion’ was the hospital staff who went above and beyond to keep his hope alive. It was his weekly shift at the op shop, where he could build new friendships and take a few moments outside of himself. And it was the man who stood beside him, as he inched closer to death, and reassured him everything would be okay.

In between his shifts at the St Kilda op shop, Dave now freelances as an Occupational Health and Safety Consultant. He also gives talks at schools and a range of businesses in an effort to educate people about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and reduce stigma for survivors.

While Dave does not believe in the term ‘recovered’, he has worked hard, drawing on his own strength and those around him to, as Barry had promised, put things back together.

Join our volunteer family
If you would like to get involved with Sacred Heart Mission, check out our current volunteer vacancies: