“They say that variety is the spice of life,” said Jim, when reflecting on his volunteer duties at CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub.
Since Jim started volunteering at the Hub 18 months ago, he has helped families from around the world to interact with government departments, secure accommodation, apply for jobs and establish their own businesses and register for soccer. He also worked as part of a team to create a community garden as well as pack and deliver food hampers.
“Assisting refugees from many nations has helped me to understand that people are the same, regardless of race or colour,” Jim said.
Volunteering has been a mainstay throughout Jim’s life, who was formerly a volunteer with Newcastle Legacy for more than 20 years. He believes it is easy to see the critical nature of volunteering in Australia, while also emphasising “it is not a one-way activity.”
“You may be giving your time and/or expertise to an organisation, but you are also getting immeasurable personal benefits to your wellness profile,” he said.
“A significant benefit of volunteering is the ability to feel part of our community where love, kindness and caring for others is the priority,” said Lesley, who has been a much-valued volunteer at CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub for the past two years.
During this time Lesley has organised cooking events with clients and more recently, has directed her efforts towards preparing and distributing food hampers on a weekly basis.
“Investing our efforts at a local level is a tangible contribution we can all make, and one that can be particularly useful when we may feel overwhelmed by the state of the world. It demonstrates to me that every person can and does make a difference,” Lesley said.
COVID-19 has brought with it many changes to how Stephen, who has been a volunteer with the Mission to Seafarers for the past eight years, assists those who arrive by ship to the Port of Newcastle.
“Pre-COVID-19 I was bussing seafarers from the ships to the Seafarers Centre and taking them shopping, sightseeing or to doctor’s appointments and the like,” he said. However, with national borders closed to international visitors, including seafarers, for the past two years Stephen has been part of a team of volunteers who have shifted their efforts to delivering care packs to the ships and organising for those onboard to be vaccinated.
Stephen’s love for all things nautical stems from his childhood, which was often spent along the waterfront where his father worked.
“After I retired, I knew it was my turn to give back. I chose to volunteer at the Mission to Seafarers as it’s a place that shares similar values and interests as my own,” he said, adding he deeply values the “wonderful family” he volunteers with.
“I also love the interaction with the seafarers, I like to listen to their stories and talk about their family.”
Stephen is a great advocate for volunteering; as well as getting enjoyment from helping others, he describes other benefits as including keeping him active, both physically and mentally, and providing him with a greater sense of self-worth.
“If you're considering volunteering, think about which causes you're passionate about and find a way to help in this area. By doing so it means you're more likely to enjoy the experience and remain committed to volunteering.”
A call for help from St Joseph’s Primary School in Denman four years ago was enough to spur Andrew Turnbull into action.
“The school had been good to my family, and I felt a responsibility to return the privilege,” said Andrew, who serves as Vice President on the schools’ Parents and Friends Association.
Andrew took on the role prior to the emergence of COVID-19, and recounts that the pandemic has proved particularly challenging.
“Though noble in design, the downstream consequences of removing parents from the school grounds have decimated the spirit of our once vibrant school community,” Andrew said.
“The school yard had been a much-valued social hub for many of our rural families; the engine room of interpersonal connections, which also provided a cradle of trust between parents, teachers and each other.”
However, he has not lost hope.
“This year we will choose goals resilient enough to withstand any further hiatus of our social order. By doing so, we may be able to replant the seeds of friendship and the spirit of community. With God’s help, we may even find the remaining fertile soil to help it grow,” Andrew said.
Patricia and Adrian Banister
For more than 50 years, married couple Patricia and Adrian were active volunteers in St Paul’s Parish in Rutherford, as well as the broader church community.
“We both came from families where volunteering was a big part of our lives, so it seemed only natural that that would continue when we got married,” Adrian said.
While their contributions have been many and varied, highlights include Patricia’s extensive involvement in social justice, ecumenism, interfaith and RCIA groups. Meanwhile, Adrian was a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society and served as parish sacristan until 2019. Even now, he distributes the regional bulletin to those in the parish unable to attend Sunday Mass.
Patricia explains that being purposefully involved in the life of their community has strengthened and enriched their relationship with God.
“It provides a great deal of satisfaction to know that you are in some way contributing to the wellbeing of your fellow citizens,” she said.
Deb Adgers, Joan Cantwell, Anne McGuirk and Katrina O’Connor
Mum’s Cottage is committed to alleviating difficulties faced by families in need by providing companionship and support. On hand to provide a welcoming environment are volunteers Deb, Joan, Anne and Katrina.
Joan, who has been a volunteer at the service for nine years and organises craft workshops for visitors, as well as making food hampers and cleaning, says she enjoys the companionship of fellow volunteers and staff, as well as the people they support.
“It a great way to meet people and help others,” she says of her experience, “I get so much enjoyment from volunteering.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Katrina, who for the past six years has focused her efforts on promoting the service in the community.
“Volunteering gets you out of your own little world and gives you perspective,” she said. “It’s very gratifying.”
Deb joined the crew at Mum’s Cottage one year ago, after spending eight years providing support to St Vincent de Paul, and said she first started volunteering because she knew there are people who would benefit from community support.
“It’s really satisfying, and very necessary in our society- I would recommend it to anyone” she said.
Meanwhile Anne, who also joined the team last year, is happy to be putting her 45 years experience working in the hospitality industry to good use. As well as helping to run games and undertake cleaning at the cottage, using donated goods she has made condiments that the not-for-profit has been able to sell as part of its fundraising efforts.
“I like to be kept busy and use my experience to help others,” she said.
Robyn started volunteering at St John’s Primary School in Lambton 18 years ago, after her grandchild first started at the school. But now, years after they have graduated from the school, she continues her service there- primarily as the canteen supervisor.
“The students faces bring me so much joy,” she said.
When Robyn isn’t at the school, she can often be found helping other local institutions such as Ronald Mc Donald House, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service and the Hunter Medical Research Institute. From data entry to fundraising, cooking meals to cleaning, staging events to looking after children, Robyn’s generosity seemingly knows no bounds.
“It’s good to give back and be useful,” Robyn said. “Volunteering makes you more resilient and gives you a different perspective on life.”
Robyn said that the over the years she has noticed the changing face of volunteers.
“A lot of mums used to volunteer while their children were at school, but now many of them are working,” she said, while commenting that she has noticed another trend arise. “Lots of younger people are now starting to volunteer, people in their teens and twenties, which is wonderful and helping to fill a void.”