In near obscurity, the 45-year-old farmer and wool buyer has helped raise thousands of dollars and collected much-needed resources for local charities and neighbourhood groups.
As the driving force behind the mysterious JFD Foundation, Mr Dorney last September stepped in to save the much-loved Delacombe Community House as it was sold at auction.
The Leawarra Crescent house, which had brought together a cross-section of the area’s immigrant and disadvantaged population for English classes and educational activities with volunteer teachers, lost operational funding in 2012 and was sold by Child and Family Services Ballarat.
Normally, when it comes time for recognition, Mr Dorney is conspicuously absent – preferring to “let the work speak for itself”.
But now all that has changed.
After feeling unwell and struggling to eat properly in November and December, the father of two received news that he had an aggressive form of stomach cancer. “The diagnosis isn’t good,” he told The Courier in his signature straightforward way. “Six months and then that’s probably it.”
Never one to be outdone by adversity, Mr Dorney has decided to use the time he has left for the JFD Foundation’s most ambitious project to date – the reinvigoration of a vital community asset. Along with the “motley crew” of the foundation’s 12 volunteers, Mr Dorney purchased the Delacombe house with funds from a mortgage on his family home.
After years of support for the 3BA Ballarat Christmas Appeal and making donations to children in care throughout the year, he sees the challenge as an opportunity to build a lasting legacy for the foundation he created to remember his father John Francis Dorney.
Regularly answering calls for help from agencies and departments supporting children, he has helped provide everything from cans of food and toys to those who need them most. His work isn’t backed by a family fortune or great personal wealth, but rather hard work and a care for Ballarat’s young people. “Before I found out I was sick I said to Peter Caligari, who runs the Christmas Appeal, that I was going to help him get over the $250,000 mark this year,” Mr Dorney said.
“I’ve told him I will still do whatever I can to help this year, even if I am on my death bed.” With a much bigger task at hand, he has begun a high-profile public appeal to raise funds to make the community house financially sustainable after his death.
Mr Dorney has enlisted the support of local real estate agents in Ballarat, who have agreed to donate their commission from future property listings, and he will spread word of the appeal on Ballarat radio.
The facility will be renamed the Delacombe Education and Training Centre, bringing together the long-running Wendouree Young Mothers program, as well as computer classes and other training opportunities for the community.
The co-ordinators of the previous programs, including the homework club and grandparents program, are currently discussing a possible return to Leawarra Crescent as part of the new facility.
Preparing for the challenges ahead, Mr Dorney said he was driven by the possibility of giving children from low socio-economic backgrounds the opportunities he had sought to provide to his own family, including daughter Kayla, 16 and son Brayden, 22.
“Ballarat people are great people and they want to chip in when there is a good cause that can help create change or make people’s lives better,” Mr Dorney said.
“I know I can contribute still and that’s just what I have decided to do.” Paying tribute to the strength his family has shown since the diagnosis, he remembers many other people in Ballarat who face harder circumstances than his.
Attending dozens of medical appointments and cancer treatment at the Ballarat Base Hospital, he said his wife Patricia and friends have reminded him what is important in life. “My kids were the first thing I thought of,” he said. “I have had 40-odd very good years and while I wouldn’t mind a couple more to tidy things up, I think I have done well.”
Mr Dorney’s first wife was killed in a tragic car accident in 1992, with the trauma helping him be inspired to better the lives of others. “You just can’t walk around dragging your lip,” he said. “You try to be strong in front of your kids and if you need a little sooky sooky you go out into the shed.”
City of Ballarat councillor Peter Innes, who co-ordinates the Young Mothers program, said Mr Dorney’s positive attitude and drive made him “an extraordinary person to be around”.
“He puts the needs of the community ahead of his own, no matter what the consequences. It is because of Shane and the work of the foundation that our Young Mothers group can increase from two days a week to four-and-a-half at Delacombe,” he said. He said the expanded program would work with Ballarat Secondary College and Phoenix Community College for years to come.
Despite ongoing cancer treatment and the knowledge that his own time is running out, Mr Dorney remains optimistic and resolute.
“This project is far more important than feeling sorry for myself.
“It’s about a legacy for the JFD Foundation and for me personally and if we can pull it off I know it help a lot of people for a long time to come.”
To make a tax deductible donation to the JFD Foundation’s Delacombe Education and Training Centre appeal go to our contact page on this website.