I speak to Sue and Fran just as they have come off the phone from singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to their big brother. Always full of energy and enthusiasm, I am excited for them to share their story with me.
“How far back do you want us to go?” laughs Fran.
Sue and Fran (officially Suzanne and Frances) were total strangers until fifteen years ago when they strongly believe that they were brought together “by the grace of God”. At the time, they were both widows without children and both working for the church.
“Both pensioners, we recognised that God wanted us to live and work as sisters in Christ, and also as sisters by choice, and sisters by covenant because we have covenanted to look after each other regardless of what happens”, explains Fran.
“And the thing that’s even better – we get along so well!” adds Sue.
Sue and Fran truly have embraced a life as sisters. Moving in together not long after they met, Sue’s family took Fran on as their own, with love and warmth. Fran originates from Hawaii, but she jokes that she has become “extremely Australian” and warmly reflects, “this is my heart country”.
Their dedication to community and their connection to The Shepherd Centre, however, began long before their paths would eventually cross. In the late 80s, Sue was working on an Aboriginal reserve on the mid-north coast of NSW, a two-decade long devotion to developing and building community. At a similar time, Fran was living in the bush in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, also working in a small community.
Sue recalls that working in the parent-run pre-school just outside of Nambucca Heads, their policy was for all underprivileged children to be able to attend regardless of need, whether it was socioeconomic, physical or psychological.
This of course included children with hearing loss and although Sue had learned some sign language as a child when her grandmother ran a hostel for people with hearing impairments, she felt she was unable to help these children in a way that would most benefit them. It was when she began to research ways to help, that she stumbled upon The Shepherd Centre, which itself was very much in its infancy at that time. She was blown away by the work happening at The Shepherd Centre and encouraged multiple families to take their children down to Sydney, which indeed they did. She felt, quite rightly, that the earlier the intervention the better and feels sure that sending those children to our doors was the best thing she could have done for them.
Fran shares with me that when I initially asked them if they would share their story, she began to reflect on what it was that had drawn them to support The Shepherd Centre and she realised that all her working life and beyond, she has been involved with disadvantaged communities and groups and that she takes great joy from seeing people empowered, and given freedom and recognition.
“And I realised, that’s exactly what The Shepherd Centre is doing and I thought, ah, of course – it makes sense!”
Sue and Fran have dedicated their lives to helping people and communities that need it most. Fran shared the special feeling she gets from watching big personal transformations take place in a short period of time and seeing communities flourish.
“Watching change and being part of change like that really gives you hope and I know that The Shepherd Centre is a place of hope. We can see, just watching what’s going on there, that you have put legs and arms and bodies on hope. And the families are empowered and because of that their communities are empowered.”
“When Fran and I got together, we felt we were supposed to help a lot of charities and The Shepherd Centre was one of the first on our list”, shares Sue.
“And I hadn’t heard of it at all, of course, so I had to be educated,” Fran laughs. “I was just delighted because I loved that it took the kids away from being in a clinical atmosphere and treated them as people. They stopped being a medical problem and all of that, and were treated holistically, as human beings, as families. It’s such a different thing! I can see them growing up: ‘I’m not just going to be a problem for the social system and the government for the rest of my life. I’m ME!’ And you see them achieve and become what they’re meant to be. It’s just gorgeous.”
The sisters have made the incredibly generous decision to remember The Shepherd Centre in their Wills. I ask them what brought them to this decision. They share with me their decision to contribute to a set number of charities both as regular donors and through gifts in their Wills. Fran assures me, “we researched pretty carefully”. They have been fortunate to have the means to give as well as the support of their family.
“We see our gift as an investment that will increase and grow,” explains Fran. “It’s not our business how you shepherd,” she laughs, “the money but we know that it will increase because of your philosophy and ethos and your practice. It’s not just going to be dropped in and be spent. It will flourish.
“It’s that wonderful word of legacy and the best thing? It ceases to be associated with us, it becomes an anonymous thing, but it’s this legacy of our generation, of our experience, of our blessing – how we were blessed. We can pass this on and we know that it will continue to flourish and we just have to trust to the wisdom of people who are dealing with it in the future. And who knows what might happen with The Shepherd Centre? I think you guys are a model for the rest of the world.”
Sue chimes in, “It’s limitless where it can go and what it can do. Ours is just a little drop in the pool.”
“We’re just glad that you’re there and we have someone to give it to,” jests Fran.
“We can’t take it with us and we wouldn’t want to anyway,” finishes Sue.