Many hands and hearts work wonders

More than 400 volunteers who work with Sydney Community Services are a wonderful part of a huge national family of 6 million Australians who understand the catchcry of Volunteer Week, 2018 – ‘Give a little. Change a lot’. They know they make a difference. They are a generous family: formal volunteering gives nearly 1 billion hours to help others each year. And that figure does not recognise many, many people – especially carers – who do not volunteer officially.

Helen Kottler loves working in others’ gardens

Volunteers make a difference in so many individual ways to people they help through billions of supportive tasks and companionship.  Collectively, all these acts of kindness build a happier and stronger community – something we all enjoy. Without our volunteers, SCS could not offer gardening, meals on wheels, linen and community visitors services – which all improve people’s lives, independence, and ability to stay in their homes. Research shows that more than 90% of volunteers see positive change as a result of their efforts (State of Volunteering in Australia Report, 2016).

Gordon Edwards keeps busy

Many volunteers are inspired to help others and give back to their community. Others simply like to be busy. Gordon Edwards started driving Sydney Community Services’ mini-buses on group outings because he wanted to be committed to something “as well as golf – and my wife, of course”. The day we spoke, he had driven 100km to Homebush Olympic Park for morning tea then to Cronulla Leagues club for lunch!

“Being busy keeps this going,” he says, tapping his head, “I like to a full schedule.”

Five years ago, when she was in her early 20s and studying counselling, Emma Flockhart did an internship with SCS  and volunteered to visit John Tritton, then a resident of Blandville Court, Gladesville.  At the time, she was living with her aunt and grandmother – who wasn’t active but loved greeting visitors – and inspired Emma’s ideas about the multiple benefits of great social connections versus isolation.

“I am the only person who sees John apart from his carers.  So I sort my life around visiting him … When you build a relationship with an older client, in a way they become a pseudo-grandparent. You make a commitment to the person because you value the person over the visiting program.”

Now that John is in care, Emma continues to visit him as part of SCS Community Visitors Scheme, which provides friendship and companionship by matching socially isolated aged-care recipients with volunteer visitors. She says that imagining a situation where she  couldn’t get out of a room without assistance helped her realise the importance of bringing other people joy … “and I feel good while visiting John and afterwards”.

New gardening team member, Helen Kottler, fits three days a week volunteering in others’ gardens into her already busy schedule. She visits her husband daily at St Anne’s nursing home in Hunters Hill as well as visiting another lady in a nursing home, and keeps tabs on her older family – especially her father whom she accompanies sailing for days at a time.

“Volunteering has been a lifesaver for me. When my husband went into St Anne’s nursing home with dementia, I realised visiting him twice a day was very tiring. Although it’s lovely being with him, I came to volunteer after he went into care because it’s good for me to focus on other people’s concerns.”

She loves the therapeutic effects of working with her hands and the appreciation and stories of people whose gardens she tidies, and the camaraderie of the garden team which she finds a happy, welcoming community.

Clearly, the holistic effects of volunteering work for both volunteer and client! While all-round benefits are impossible to quantify, research shows volunteering yields a massive 450% return for every dollar invested. And value to the community, to workplace culture, not to mention corporate image, is increasingly recognised by larger businesses where workplace volunteering is on the up-and-up. Volunteering Australia reports that about two thirds of large companies run workplace volunteering as do nearly one third of mid-sized businesses. Volunteering is a positive that transcends financial returns … it’s good to know that big business is catching on.