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Salvos help Willie relaunch his life after career setback

Salvos help Willie relaunch his life after career setback

Salvos help Willie relaunch his life after career setback

21 June 2021

Former rugby league player Willie Makata shares his story with the crowd at last week’s Red Shield Appeal luncheon in Sydney. Photos: Lena Pobjie

Sydney’s Red Shield Appeal launch was held at the Fullerton Hotel last week, with 370 people hearing former National Rugby League player Willie Mataka share his powerful story of experiencing homelessness after his NRL career nosedived.

After an illustrious junior career, which included national schoolboy honours, the Australian-Tonga player had short stints with the Roosters, Eels and Dragons before his life spiralled down.

He told those gathered that his younger self “didn’t consider university, TAFE or other contingencies for post rugby” which, eventually, caught up with him. With his father dying of cancer, Willie said he finished his short NRL career with “no job, no contract and no father …”

He then found himself experiencing different forms of homelessness, from couch surfing to wandering the streets all night. Eventually, he gained employment and stable housing and retrained to become a youth worker. In 2017, he began work with The Salvation Army’s Foster House homelessness support service.

“Working with the men in that space made it easy for me to relate to them and understand their struggles with homelessness,” he said. “Homelessness is very real, and it only takes one traumatic experience, breakdown in family, loss of loved ones, a lack of knowledge of services … for it to take effect.”

RSA Others awardNSW/ACT Divisional Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Miriam Gluyas presents Belinda Hutchinson and Roger Massy-Greene with their Others service awards.

At the end of his powerful presentation, Willie said: “I am only one person but for every homeless person you see there are 13 others you can’t see.” He then invited 13 other people from the crowd of those gathered to stand up.

“Here with me today are some of my friends, they each have their own stories but they, too, have experienced homelessness and they, too, have been supported by The Salvation Army,” he said.

Another highlight of the event was the presentation of Others service awards to long-time Salvation Army supporters Belinda Hutchinson and Roger Massy-Greene.

The NSW Government was one of the major donors on the day, contributing $225,000 towards the national Red Shield Appeal target of $32 million.






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