DON'T underestimate the power of a cup of tea.

It can start a conversation, open a door to help and ultimately change a life.

For Cossette Thompson, the power of a cup of tea helped her back onto her feet and into a house when she was homeless but now she's using the humble cuppa to return the favours she was awarded many years ago.

She heads the Ipswich Vinnies StepUp loan program which helps families and individuals to fund something that is going to help the take the next step in life. Whether it be a car to get to work, furniture to get a good nights sleep or a new fridge to store fresh and nutritious food, loans of up to $3000 are available to help people improve their circumstances.

Ms Thompson said a few hundred or few thousand dollars could mean a family has an income through a viable job, a child thrives at school after a good night's sleep or a family can support their grocery bill with fresh caught fish.

"I someone is looking for work and they need a car to get to work, even just a small second-hand car to get on the road, get them to work and get a job and down the track they can improve their circumstances," she said.

"One of them was for a caravan and that was so the parents and son could have a bit more space but the child doesn't have to leave home. He's safe and mum knows where he is but he has his own space and the family can stay together.

"Let's say you do have a job but it's very low income and you car brakes down and you need to have it fixed. If you don't have that $1500 chances are you're going to lose your job because you have no way of getting to work. It's the difference between going back on the dole or maintaining a lifestyle and their job."

She said she has helped fund small fishing boats so a retiree can teach his grandchildren to fish while at the same time supplementing his grocery bill with fresh caught sea food.

 

AWARD GLORY: St Vincent de Paul SetUp Microfinance officer Cossette Thompson won the Gavan Podbury Award for Individual Excellence at the Good Shepherd Microfinance Conference.
AWARD GLORY: St Vincent de Paul SetUp Microfinance officer Cossette Thompson won the Gavan Podbury Award for Individual Excellence at the Good Shepherd Microfinance Conference. David Nielsen

"If you can see how its going to benefit the family in the long run, they can apply," she said.

An important part of her role is to help people understand how to make the most of their money. She said sometimes people need help to read an electricity bill or reminded ATMs charge $2 to withdraw cash.

"Any time I see that little light bulb moment and they realise where their money is going, they're the moments that really get to me. Just occasionally people will phone and say thank you and that's all that's needed," Ms Thompson said.

"I never tell people they're need to give something up, if they spend their money on cigarettes or knitting or craft, I just make them aware of how much they're actually spending on it and leave it at that.

"I don't judge people because you don't have to have money to be rich, some of the poorest people are the best budgeters I have ever come across and people who have money to spend, they're the ones who don't know where their money is going." Ms Thompson said the life skills she teaches people in her job are the same skill she was taught when she lived in relief housing.

"Someone once told me, it doesn't cost anything to brush your hair, iron your clothes and look great in a $2 lipstick. What she was saying was even though she had no money, there was no reason to look like it. There is no reason to carry yourself as if you have nothing in the world," she said.

Efforts in spotlight with top award

HOMELESS and unable to get credit for a furniture, Cossette Thompson turned to what was then called Booval Housing for help.

Years later, the organisation has evolved into Ipswich Housing and Support Services and Ms Thompson is the face people turn to when they need help in the same way she did.

Ms Thompson has poured her heart and sole into her role as a SetUp Loan Program Microfinanace officer and in August she was awarded the Gavan Podbury Award for Excellence at the Good Shepherd Microfinance Conference.

The Gavan Podbury Award was the top award for the national conference, awarded to an individual NILS or StepUP worker who has gone beyond their job description.

Ms Thompson has worked tirelessly for the society for a number of years now and her commitment and passion has had an incredible impact not only for her clients but also the local community.

"Because of my background of being financially disadvantaged and discriminated against I don't feel the to have the right to say to people you have to go through that," she said.

"I have always felt like I am a stepping stone, if I can help them to find a mentor or move on, it's fulfilling. You don't have to stay poor." She said she decided she was going to repay the help she had received when she was working as the tea lady at emergency relief meetings at a local church.

"I thought one day I'm going to repay you," Ms Thompson said. "Never underestimate the power of a cup of tea.

"The hardest step is the first. If you can walk through the door and say you need help, I consider you the bravest person in the world."



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