How school chaplain Stuart White rescued family in crisis
IT was a time of graduations, celebrations and coming-of-age for Caloundra High's Class of 2014.
Then tragedy struck.
Just weeks after graduation, popular student Hope Dell was killed in a car crash on Caloundra Rd.
Her death sent a shockwave through the community and scores of grieving teenagers converged on her home to support her family.
And there, sharing their grief, was a young man who would ultimately act as the glue which held Hope's family and friends together.
Caloundra High's dreadlocked school chaplain, Stuart White, proved an unlikely hero.
Parents knew him by reputation as "really cool" but Caloundra High mum Simone Venning said he was "phenomenal" during the tragedy.
"Stuart was a huge part of helping those kids deal with Hope's death," she said.
"His support for all involved is still ongoing, even though most are no longer at school."
Today Simone shares her experience of the dedication of Caloundra High's "Chappy".
Chappy Stuart White is your man in a crisis
I HAVE two sons - Nathan Jackson who is in Year 10 at Caloundra High and Rhys Jackson, who graduated from Year 12 last year.
Both attended Currimundi Primary School. I know there is a chaplaincy program in place there but never had involvement with it and didn't know much about the school chaplain's role.
When Rhys started in Year 8 it wasn't long before he came home from school telling me about this Chappy at school who had dreadlocks and was really cool.
He would talk about how he was involved in the sporting programs and all the kids enjoyed having him as their coach.
I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions. I was quite impressed with his ease and interaction with the kids.
Rhys enjoyed school and had a wide group of friends, most of whom had gone to primary school together.
They are a great group of boys and girls who are still in our lives. During Year 9, Rhys started going out with a lovely young girl named Jade Dell. I got to know Jade's mum Faye quite well.
Their family had been rocked by the loss of Faye's husband, Scott, earlier that year and Faye had told me of Stuart's help when Scott passed away.
Jade's twin sister Hope and her stepbrother Stafford and stepsister Anais were also Caloundra High students.
Stuart arrived at the family home with a huge hamper of food. Faye did not know him but the kids all knew who he was. He was a constant support to Faye and the four children in the months and years that followed.
Stuart continued to show empathy and compassion to their family and his support was greatly appreciated.
Anais was in her final year of high school the year Scott passed away and she graduated with an OP2.
Hope struggled with Scott's death and Chappy supported her exploration of religion. Hope found a lot of happiness and peace with her beliefs.
Rhys, Jade and their friends continued on their journey to Year 12 and many rugby league, AFL and basketball competitions, all of which Chappy was involved with.
This great group of young people finished the Caloundra High journey with graduation last November.
Through the five years of high school, Stuart White would have had contact with every one of these 212 students who graduated. They all knew him and held him in the highest respect.
I'm sure he has a tear each year as he watches these young people who come to Caloundra High in Year 8 as frightened little ones, graduate as self-assured young people, all of whom are the better for having Stuart White in their lives.
That night at the party where parents, kids and teachers celebrated the achievement of five years of high school, I sat beside Faye who was especially celebrated as she had three children graduating Year 12.
As a parent, I left that night on a high, feeling blessed that my son and his friends had such wonderful grounding, not only with their education but all-round life skills that the teachers and support staff at Caloundra High had provided.
Schoolies was the next step ... our lovely teenagers were settling into life in the real world. Their dreams were now becoming realities. Then our lives were shattered. I received a phone call from Jade late on Thursday night, December 11th, to say Hope had been killed in a car accident.
"Please come to mum," she cried.
This was beyond comprehension. A beautiful, bubbly loving daughter, sister and friend gone in the blink of an eye.
The next day, as the awful reality dawned on us, Hope's devastated friends arrived at Faye's home.
Stuart White arrived too.
This was a situation that no-one can prepare you for and no-one should have to go through.
Stuart's support through those first few days was just phenomenal.
Faye's house was full of teenagers trying to come to grips with the loss of their dear friend and Stuart was a huge part of helping those kids to deal with Hope's death.
He knew all these kids so well, so knew of their relationships with Hope.
But most of all he knew Hope so well.
Stuart helped everyone during those first few days - Faye, Jade, Stafford, Anais and all Hope's friends, their parents and the teachers and staff from school. Stuart worked with Faye to organise the funeral service, which was a beautiful celebration of Hope's life.
I know how hard it must have been for Stuart to officiate at the funeral of a young girl who he knew so well.
Stuart's dedication and faith was a constant support to Faye, her family and friends during this traumatic time. His support for all involved is still ongoing even though most are no longer at school.
This is but one story of Chappy's amazing dedication to his career.
A parent made the comment to me recently - "It is amazing that a child can have no respect for teachers and education but have the utmost respect for Chappy and just by having that relationship with him shapes their future".
The chaplaincy program at Caloundra High is priceless and Stuart White is worth his weight in gold.