Volunteers Are The Lifeblood Of Our Community

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Volunteers are the lifeblood of our community. The ability of people to willingly donate their time and energy to meaningful causes and organisations makes for much enrichment of our community. 




People volunteer for many reasons – from an innate desire to contribute or for help learning new skills, making friends and improving community life and self-worth.

The theme for National Volunteer Week in 2012 is ‘Volunteers – Every One Counts’. We hear from Great Lakes Neighbour Aid Team Leader, Karen Burton, on this year’s plans for celebrating volunteers.

This year during National Volunteer Week (from 14 to 20 May) organisations are recognising volunteers in many different ways. Plans are in place to provide a joint celebration with Great Lakes Neighbour Aid, Great Lakes Meals on Wheels, Great Lakes Centre-based Respite Service and Great Lakes Leisure and Respite Options to recognise and reward their valuable contribution to these services. What have you got planned for Volunteers Week?

This year, the above services have joined together to host a big BBQ luncheon at the Community Centre for all our volunteers. Meals on Wheels will be cooking up a storm, and we always have a special something to show how much we value and appreciate our volunteers.

We know that some of our volunteers just don’t assist the one service and in fact, some volunteers are very busy working with all of our services – that equates to a huge amount of time and dedication from these wonderful people, for which we are so grateful. As they say – ask a busy person!

Volunteers are an extremely important resource to the community. What are some of their varying responsibilities? 

Our target group is frail older people, younger people with a disability and the carers of both. Depending on the service they are associated with, our volunteers can assist with activities such as food preparation and meal deliveries, taking people shopping, to the doctors and other appointments, assisting with people with memory loss with Centre-Based Respite service, and social support and respite for people with a disability with Leisure and Respite Options.

Tell us about the individual work of the four services mentioned previously which are being celebrated during National Volunteer Week

The aim of all our services is to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible by providing a range of different services. We are government funded, and, with the aid of our volunteers, we can keep the costs to our clients to a minimum.

Great Lakes Neighbour Aid, Great Lakes Centre-Based Respite Service and Great Lakes Leisure and Respite Options are under the auspice of Great Lakes Council, who manage our funds and support us to do our work.

Neighbour Aid’s core role is to provide social support services, which includes shopping assistance, transport to medical and other appointments, small and bus group outings, a men’s group and information and socialisation for Carers through Support Groups.

We also have a Wheelie Bin service for those who have difficulty in putting out and taking in their bins. Basically, we assist people to access their local community and try to ensure that the service is tailored to each individual’s need.

The Centre-Based Respite Service is a Dementia Specific Day Centre which runs several day programs for people with memory loss who live with a loved one or live by themselves, which includes the Daisy Club, a Ladies Group and a Men’s Group. Volunteers assist the staff with the organising of activities such as indoor bowls, craft and outings. The participants’ days are filled with fun and laughter and while they are with the service, their carers get a well-earned break.

Leisure and Respite Options have a range of programs tailored to meet the individual needs of people with a disability and their carers. This can be a one-on-one outing, a small group foray into the local community, a holiday away or even hosting a person in the family home.

Áll the people we support choose leisure activities which are meaningful, including connecting with surf clubs, sporting clubs and creative and artistic pursuits, while at the same time, their Carers have the opportunity to do something for themselves.

The participants have even won a State Cultural Award for their stage performance of Peregrine in 2009 and are well known for their annual Art Exhibitions.

Meals on Wheels doesn’t just provide meals; they also run other programs such as their meal voucher program, outings and walk in frozen food service. They cover a wide area, including Forster/Tuncurry, Nabiac, Firefly, Krambach, Tarbuck Bay, Coomba Park and Hallidays Point. Volunteers are represented on the Management Committee.

What benefits can volunteers bring to an organisation?

Good question. Volunteers bring many benefits and first and foremost, our services would not be able to function without them – they are the backbone of our organisations, and we would certainly not be able to achieve all that we have in the past and hope to achieve in the future without them.

Volunteers bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience and are very active within our services, helping us to improve what we do. They attend meetings and have input into decision making, which is rewarding for them and influences how we work with the people we assist. They are our eyes and ears, as they are in constant contact with the people they help, so they are providing a monitoring service to us as well.

The face of volunteering has changed over time and volunteers are no longer restricted to middle-aged retirees with time to spare. People from all walks of life volunteer these days. Who volunteers?

Of course, we still have a large number of people in this age group, and now trends are emerging after initiatives to capture a wider range of volunteers.

Centrelink have their Work for the Dole program, which brings us younger members of the community, and Meals on Wheels is involved with the Student Volunteering Program in partnership with Great Lakes College, targeting our younger school-aged community members to experience the sense of achievement and the many rewards in helping others. Younger people with a disability rely on their school peers for friendship and socialisation.

Why do people volunteer? 

There are lots of reasons volunteers give freely of their time and the majority, when asked, will tell you that they volunteer because they want to give something back to their community, that they love helping people and they get so much satisfaction from knowing that they are making a difference in someone’s life. They make great friendships with the people they work with and just seeing the smile and gratitude on their faces is all that a volunteer needs to feel they are doing something worthwhile.

Another reason why people volunteer is to see if they would like to pursue a career in aged care and/or disability sector. Volunteering in this industry is a great stepping stone to gain employment in their chosen fields. So, volunteering is not just for those with time on their hands – we are actually assisting the workforce in sourcing workers in a skill shortage area.

The theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week is ‘Volunteers – Every One Counts’, which is sending a message to existing volunteers that they are valued and we appreciate their time, commitment and caring nature. The volunteers don’t want rewards or accolades, as they feel they receive this through the work they do, and us, as service providers, want to be able let them know how much they are valued – that is why Volunteer’s Week is celebrated nationally in May each year and we organise a special event in their honour.

Our volunteers are wonderful, and we need more of you! An increasing number of self-funded retirees are moving to this area, and they tend to still be very active with their own pursuits, which is understandable. But, maybe there can still be room for giving just an hour or two per week or fortnight – the rewards will be countless!

Volunteers are reimbursed for their out of pocket expenses and receive ongoing training and support.

So if you like having fun, being with people and having an adventure, contact us for your active involvement in your community. Contact Karen on 6554 8698.

Thank you Karen.

Interview by Karen Farrell.

This story was published in issue 63 of Manning Great Lakes Focus

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