Volunteer numbers in small country communities is declining. Many clubs have folded as there are not enough people to fill not only executive positions but to come along and be part of the Club, including fundraisers, events and activities. This is a trend across Australia as a whole.
Volunteers can still be found, quietly working within communities. I have come across such people, in my own backyard.
While visiting my mum – who is recently widowed – I enjoyed the company of two astonishing local ladies who regularly check on mum just to make sure all is OK. They live just up the road, but if you are looking for them you will rarely find them at home. You will find them helping others in the local community.
They might be keeping an elderly person company or gently coaching another to take a few steps after an operation, organising a vehicle for a family so they can drive to town for food and appointments or feeding someone else chooks and ducks while they are in hospital. Our community might be small but there is always someone needing assistance. This mother and daughter seem to know who and seem to know when.
Glenda is a trained nurse. Up until a few years ago she had her own business where she would visit people in their homes and care for them. Her daughter Phoebe jokes when we talk about this. Her mum always went over and above what was needed to be done and there were many days she stayed with the client or did that little extra, making her late home for dinner or to help with homework. For Glenda, it wasn’t a 9-5 job.
I asked Glenda “Why do you do it? What motivates you to help people” thinking this was an easy question. She hesitates, sits back in her chair and ponders her answer. “People need help and I can help them. I work with them so we achieve something together. It’s teamwork and gives them back confidence. One small achievement for them helps take away a lot of self-doubt”
There are also other wonderful people supporting this community. A few years ago the local church surveyed the community by door knocking on the 120 residences and asking what people thought the community needed. Not surprising the biggest issue was something for the youth to do. Curlewis is about 17km from its larger country centre Gunnedah, situated in north west NSW about 5 hours inland of Sydney. While many of the youth travel to Gunnedah for high school there are very little other activities to fill their time outside those hours.
What started as Kids Club through a church has grown. Phoebe and her sister Crystal, with the help of others could see the youth needed not just an activity or two in school holidays but a regular place to go, to mix with others in a safe environment. With the help of others in the community they have established the Curlewis Youth Drop In Centre. The church has provided them with a building that is decorated with lounges, bean bags and provides a welcoming space one a week.
Over a quiet cup of tea we reflected on why there are less youth offering to volunteer in the community, or regional NSW as a whole. Phoebe has observed that the more willing volunteers are young adults who have lived away from the community and returned or have experienced a life elsewhere. We wondered whether these see the community from a different angle and appreciate the positive aspects rather than being caught in the monotony of their own world. It can be easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day to day micro happenings of a small town. Becoming independent and living with other cultures and strangers can help people appreciate their own community and potentially bring back newly learned skills and confidence. It will be a challenge to break this cycle. The Youth Drop In Centre is doing this in its own small way.
Each week the centre has 20-30 youth attend. At first the number of adults that came along to help were the same ones that started the centre. Over time others became interested, just helping prepare food or work in the background. Now there is a roster to share the load. The adults enjoy the banter with the youth and vice versa. The young love hearing stories from the elderly volunteers. It’s a win-win.
Many articles highlight the value of volunteering for young people. It looks good on a resume and can help get a scholarship. It also builds teamwork and organisation skills, supervisory or communication skills and confidence with working people outside their home environment.
As a parting question I asked Glenda how does she feel when she has helped someone? What is it like when she sees a glimmer of hope in their eyes and a smile of achievement beaming back at her?
I was expecting emotive words like warm, happy, joyful, proud or delighted. Instead she couldn’t respond; the question was too hard to answer.
Why? Glenda volunteers her time to help others. That is all. No self-gain, no feeding a personal need, no recognition required. The sign of a truly wonderful person who Gives.
**Article originally written and published for The Australia Times GIVE Magazine. Publishing here to celebrate International Volunteers Day