Cass Vickers in the Orange Sky Laundry van
Cass Vickers in the Orange Sky Laundry van

Orange Sky Laundry is a charity offering free mobile laundry services for people experiencing homelessness.

While waiting for their clothes to be washed and dried, people have the opportunity to sit down and engage in conversation with volunteers.

This simple, practical model for fostering community connection and understanding caught the interest of CSC postgraduate student Cassandra Vickers. 

As part of her Practicum studies for her Master's degree, she's spent the past few months collecting stories that showcase the impact Orange Sky Laundry is having across Australia.

Cass says the storytelling project is the first of its kind for the charity, and has evolved over time. 

“True to the magic of participation and assimilation, the project developed from a survey that would capture some of the content of the conversations being held between the volunteers and the homeless friends for training purposes, to a collection of stories that would aim to educate donors and the general public of the direct social impact of the organisation and change the perception of homelessness,” she says.

Through the project, Cass says she’s seen first-hand how stories can lead to positive social change.

“I learned the true power of storytelling, and the importance of building this culture within an organisation that sees the value of its work so instantly,” she says.

“Many stories highlighted devastating circumstances that could happen to any of us, at any time.

“Sharing these highly emotive, relatable stories can help close the gap between those with stable home environments and those without, and help us understand exactly what kind of support can make a difference.”

For Cass, the highlight of her experiences was bearing witness to the relationships that were formed through the mobile laundry service.

“I loved seeing the friendships the volunteers had fostered, and how their time each week was so precious to the friends,” she says.

“Sure, there are those that come to do their laundry, but most of the friends come to talk to the volunteers and pick up where they left off the week before.

“That connection, regularity and routine has become a vital part of their emotional stability.”

Cass says that the biggest challenge of the project was convincing the 650 Orange Sky Laundry volunteers across Australia to spend the time to document and submit their stories.

“Whilst an online survey was really the only way we could collect the data, it was difficult to gain significant buy-in to the project," she says.

“In addition attending meetings with Service Managers and driving the project by attending laundry shifts in Brisbane, Facebook was a highly effective channel.

“I recorded a promotional video with [founders] Nick and Lucas pitching the creation of a book called 'Orange Sky Stories' before sending weekly inspiration with example stories I’d collected from volunteers in Brisbane."

Cass says the experience has taught her that CSC relies on laying good groundwork.

“I’ve learnt importance of taking your time, observing, being respectful and grateful for what you are offered," she says.

“Going out on shift regularly in the beginning was vital to the success of my project.

“There is no way I would have had the insight, nor built the trust internally, to create a project like this that tells the story of an organisation, had I not done this."

Cass plans to continue volunteering with Orange Sky Laundry to realise the storytelling project.

“We’re not sure if we’ll go for a book or a calendar at this stage, but here’s just one of the stories that will feature:

"A friend who is a regular opened up to me about why he had become homeless. He told me that he had been in a relationship for many years, that he had 8 children (all girls) and that their lives had been pretty normal. They weren’t well off, but they were ok. He told me how 16 years earlier he had been the victim of a hit and run car accident. The guy who hit him stopped, saw that he was not dead, then got back into his car and fled. My friend was badly hurt, sustained multiple breaks, a head injury and brain damage. His injuries were so severe that he was not able to work again. Then, his wife told him she had to leave to find someone else to help her look after their children. He has been on the streets ever since. He sleeps rough and is ill-treated. The extraordinary thing about him is that he is not judgmental or bitter, just philosophical about the cards he has been dealt. He is well-liked in the group of homeless friends and provides a sense of fun and liveliness at each shift. He is trying to get to Perth next month as one of his daughters is getting married. He told me he has been asked to 'give her away'. The irony of that tradition is not lost on him.”

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