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“St John’s Community Care”: A Greek embrace and a refuge for those who are in need in Queensland

In the city of Cairns, at the north-eastern tip of Australia, a small Greek Orthodox community has managed to forge a little “miracle” that is transforming the lives of thousands of people.

We are referring to the Community of St John the Baptist!

Twenty-four years ago, the members envisioned and launched a great undertaking that was to embrace the entire community of Queensland – as well as to be embraced by the local communities – thus highlighting the greatness of the Greek spirit of compassion, Christian love and charity.

This is about St John’s Community Care, a not-for-profit charity of the Holy Archdiocese of Australia, whose mission is to provide wide-ranging assistance and support to children, the elderly and people with disabilities, and meets the full array of needs that the government welfare bodies are unable to meet.

Starting in 1997, when the first aged care centre was established, St John’s charted an impressive course of expansion and development and reached the point, in the year 2021, where it provides its valuable services to over 5,500 people from 35 nationalities in eight different locations in Queensland. Based in the Cairns suburb of Redlynch, the organisation extends south to Brisbane (Taigum) and north to Thursday Island in the Torres Straits. Other locations where St John’s Community Care has centres are: Mareeba, Innisfail, Townsville, Gordonvale and Coen.

These centres incorporate aged care programs, young care facilities, child care centres, day care centres, while the organisation also provides transport services and in-home support to clients. Through innovative programs and activities, St John’s applies a holistic person-centred approach to meeting client needs and continuously improving their quality of life.

It is worth mentioning that the services and programs of St John’s Community Care are not only open to the members of the Greek Orthodox community but to all people of Queensland. The Christian values, which underpinned the project and were the source of inspiration for the founding members of the organisation, were transmitted without change to the management, staff and volunteers who took on various roles and responsibilities throughout the following years. With these values as a basis, the people of St John’s continue to extend a helping hand to every person in need of support; always with love and respect and without discrimination and exclusion. In fact, emphasis has been given to support the indigenous peoples of Queensland by implementing programs adapted to their own needs and requirements. In general, the philosophy that governs the operation of St John’s has, at its core, the provision of high-quality services that go hand in hand with the unique needs of each recipient and allow for the improvement, as far as possible, of their quality of life.

An important advantage for the organisation of St John’s Community Care is its experienced, specialised and dedicated personnel. Coming from different cultural backgrounds, which allows the best approach to cater for people’s needs across the social spectrum, the staff of St John’s work with passion and in a sacrificial manner to offer the finest of services in a variety of fields.

It is noted that the centres of St John’s are staffed by people from the local communities in which they are located. This gives the organisation an enhanced role as, on the one hand, it contributes as an employer to the economic development and prosperity of the local communities and, on the other hand, it gains the trust of its members, as they realise that their friends, neighbours or even relatives will provide them with the best possible care when they require it.

Another chapter, vital to the operation and crucial to the brilliant course that St John’s Community Care has chartered over the years, is that of the volunteers who participate in its programs and activities; people who have chosen to dedicate themselves unselfishly and wholeheartedly in serving the needs of society as a whole.

At the same time, from positions of responsibility, the members of the Board of Directors work diligently to succeed in meeting the goals and aims of the organisation, and in outstanding cooperation with the staff and volunteers. At the helm is a pioneer of the establishment of St John’s Community Care, a prominent member of the Greek community, Mr Theo Bacalakis. By all accounts, he is an accomplished leader of the Greek community in Northern Queensland, who has worked tirelessly and taken a personal interest in all matters relating to the operation of the organisation. Mr Bacalakis has worthy associates by his side on the Board of Directors: Charles Gianarakis, Les Lazarus, Peter Mappas, Fr Menelaos Hatzoglou, Thomas Triantafillou and Gerry Vallianos, as well as the CEO, Sonya Leonardi.

After two and a half decades of service, St John’s Community Care continues, with the firm support of the Holy Archdiocese and with increasing dynamism and complete devotion to the vision of its founders, to put the needs of its fellow humans at the forefront as well as to convert the valuable trust it has so far garnered into a source of inspiration and energy for the further expansion and advancement of the God-pleasing work it performs.