The homelessness fighter

Image: Kathy Hilton
Interview with Kathy Hilton Ardoch Youth Foundation .

“I get more out of helping somebody I reckon than they do out of receiving it.” Kathy Hilton.


There’s a beautiful Talmud quote, “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, “grow, grow.” After meeting Kathy Hilton and hearing her incredible story I’ve decided she is the closest person I’ve met to one of those angels. I don’t mean this lightly.

This Engaging Woman was working as a student counsellor at an Australian high school in 1988 when a student confided she was coming to school from a Brotherhood of St Laurence bin. Yes, you read that correctly, A CHARITY BIN.

This girl’s name was Eloise, her home life was destructive as her single mother was an alcoholic and home wasn’t a safe place. She found refuge in a charity collection bin but every day she still took herself to school.

Kathy initially called the Education department – assuming they would welcome the student with open arms – but quickly discovered Eloise fell between the gaps.

Despite it not being part of a counsellor’s job description Kathy then called her own doctor, dentist and optician and they treated Eloise for free.

With the help of other teachers, they photocopied school books, organised a tutor and raised board money so the homeless girl could stay with friends.

As word spread, hundreds of disadvantaged kids started coming to Ardoch High School for help. Breakfast and lunch programs were set up and the Ardoch Youth Foundation was born.

Today it has helped thousands of children, with thousands of volunteers and corporate sponsors.

It has changed lives.


Martine Harte: Kathy can you take us back to the day the year 11 student first came to you?


Kathy Hilton: Well after the immediate shock subsided, I hugged her because she just looked terrified. I sat her down, gave her a cup of tea and listened to her story. I tried to keep a pretty calm exterior because I was very shocked.

I never thought there were children in those extreme circumstances here in what I thought was my “lucky country” Australia. I was a bit naïve. I had known homelessness to exist in wartime and times of floods or fires – here in Australia that was the norm, people rally around the homeless in crisis.

As I listened to this young girl I realised that her situation was a process, probably a long process from the time she was very little. I could not believe her situation could not be picked up earlier and something be done about it but I had to concentrate on the immediate situation: she was in crisis with nowhere safe to live, her health needs which were clear were unable to be met, she wanted to be at school, she wanted to break that cycle of poverty and saw education as her only way out.


The modelling you received from your family, I understand that emphasised the importance of making a difference in the world, can you tell us what it was that your parents told you in that respect?


Kathy Hilton: They were survivors of the holocaust children, they had lost family you know: mothers, brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews. They’d lost their livelihoods, they’d lost their houses, they were homeless in wartime.

They stuck together and always helped each other out. They didn’t know a word of English when they came here yet any time they could help someone else they would help. They would share clothes, they would share housing, they’d provide you with love and care.


So what has it meant to you personally to make a contribution with the Ardoch Youth Foundation?


Kathy Hilton: I’ve been really lucky because I used to get fulfilment out of getting a smile out of a child that you rarely would see smiling. I’ve been blessed because I always recognised the difference you can make by smiling at someone in the street sometimes, helping someone cross the road sometimes.

This lady came to me some years ago, she was just devastated at having to ask for help but she was courageous enough to ask for it. She told me her story and I was holding her hand while she was talking, patting her hand.

She came back a year after and said “I wanted to thank you so much,” it wasn’t only for the educational supplies that she got from us, she also learnt how to make herself feel better. Now when she is unhappy she takes her own hand and pats it with the other and thinks of me.


She probably hadn’t had her hand patted before?  


Kathy Hilton:That’s right, I’ve had kids who have never been hugged!


Oh, that is so sad…


Kathy Hilton: They’ve never been hugged the same way as some of them have never tasted an orange..

I used to think I’d failed with some of these kids because they left school and were on drugs but I’ve received letters afterwards from kids saying, “you have no idea what that meant to me at the time.” They weren’t quite ready, but now they are youth workers and contributors to society.

I get more out of helping somebody I reckon than they do out of receiving it.

The Ardoch Youth Foundation relies heavily on the generosity of others, find out how to donate here