Volunteers form the backbone of most charity and community organisations, yet are often the unsung heroes. Without their dedication, time, knowledge and passion, many of the services these organisations deliver would not exist - services that make a genuine difference in the lives of thousands of people in Canberra.
This year’s theme of National Volunteer Week (18-24 May) was ‘Changing Lives and Changing Communities’ – an apt theme as it encompasses the essence of volunteering.
Canberra normally has one of the highest rates of volunteering in Australia, with four in ten people volunteering (until COVID-19).
Ruth Zanker, our Director of Social Programs and Volunteering, proudly sang the praises of Communities@Work volunteers and called on the community to celebrate the incredible contribution volunteers make, during the Volunteer Appreciation Week, for an interview with the RiotACT.
“We have over 100 dedicated and committed volunteers, who are passionate supporters of our organisation,” she said. “Pre-COVID, they were generously donating over 300 hours a week to help us deliver important services to the community. We couldn’t do the work that we do without them.”
How Volunteering Makes a Difference
Volunteering makes a lot of difference in the community as volunteers take on a significant component of work for local groups, charities, and community organisations, such as Communities@Work, to deliver high-quality services and enrich the lives of people in the community.
Volunteers connect people and communities and even help people re-engage with their lives after a setback. They often help ensure major events run smoothly and play a vital role in ensuring that everyone in the community enjoys a sense of belonging through such events. They foster community development and success.
Even a volunteer helping out with the smallest of tasks can make a huge difference.
Our volunteers assist across most of the programs in Communities@Work. They support the most vulnerable people in our community through our food pantries, and collect donations through our Food Rescue and clothing programs. They also run our charity Best Dressed Store, share their skills and knowledge in our seniors and disability programs and at our Galilee School, and support our family day care playgroups.
Impact of COVID-19 on Volunteering
As Lee Maiden, CEO of Communities@Work and board member of VolunteeringACT explains: “Recent survey results by VolunteeringACT shows that COVID-19 has forced more than 70% of Canberra organisations with volunteer programs to stand down their volunteers. This is due to a suspension of these programs and government restrictions. At the same time, these organisations have seen a 31% increase in demand for their services.”
“COVID-19 has certainly impacted our essential support programs and volunteers,” agrees Ruth. “We’ve put restrictions and hygiene practices in place to ensure we are keeping everyone as safe as possible. Many of our volunteers have had to suspend their volunteering or self-isolate. Some have also been classified as a vulnerable person because of their age, or have had to suspend due to social distancing.
This has meant that some of Communities@Work’s programs have been temporarily suspended while others have changed the way they operate.
“At the moment, many of our volunteers have been unable to physically come in, so we have adapted our volunteer roles to fit around the different ways we are delivering our programs during COVID-19, so the ones who are willing and able to assist can still do so,” explained Ruth.
“We’re also exploring virtual opportunities. For instance, one of our clients, Bev, was really missing the art sessions she ran for our young adults living with a disability – and they were missing her. So, we’re going to try running an online video session.”
Adapting to COVID-19 for our Volunteers
While the temporary closure of so many volunteering programs impacts the most vulnerable people, it can also adversely affect volunteers. Volunteering plays a big part in the lives of volunteers as it improves the mental health and wellbeing of the volunteers themselves.
As one volunteer, Warren, said: “Volunteering is good for our health, and helps us live longer. It’s good for our heart; it keeps our minds active and it certainly picks up your spirit.”
Volunteer wellbeing is one of the main reasons that we are focused on staying connected to our volunteers. We have implemented a range of initiatives to make sure that the volunteers who can’t come in still feel very connected to the organisation and to each other.
“We’re really lucky that we have a dedicated volunteer coordinator,” says Ruth. “Her whole job is to support and recruit and maintain volunteer relationships. She put out a survey, asking our volunteers what they’d like to see in this time where they can’t see us face to face.
“We also send emails and video messages to keep them in the loop and are also connecting volunteers who wish to catch up with each other.”
Celebrating National Volunteer Week 2020
“While we acknowledge and appreciate our volunteers all year round, we also provide events a few times a year to give them an extra-special thank you, such as during National Volunteer Week this week and at other times during the year such as International Volunteer Day.
“This year we are celebrating National Volunteer Week in a different way because of COVID-19, including sending small gifts of appreciation in the mail as they can’t be here face to face, and creating a special thank you video for them from the Communities@Work staff.”
While waiting for the green light from the government, Communities@Work is putting plans in place to provide extra training and support to volunteers so their transition back into volunteering is as seamless as possible.
“We can’t wait to have our volunteers back!” enthused Ruth. “And not just because they play such a vital role in assisting our organisation – but because they have such great energy and bring smiles to our faces when we see them. Please come back soon!”
How to Become a Volunteer in Canberra
There are several ways to sign up for volunteering in Canberra and the surrounding ACT region. Volunteering ACT provides helpful information on finding volunteering opportunities, types of volunteering that you can sign up for, and workshops, training and events you can participate in to become a volunteer.
Benefits of Volunteering
Becoming a volunteer means sharing your skills and experience, and contributing your time and effort, to benefit the people in the Canberra community. Volunteering with Communities@Work means becoming a part of our family, and our larger social impact. Volunteering will also help you with:
- Meeting new people and making new friends
- Finding a sense of belonging in a close-knit community
- Expanding your skills, gaining professional development, and potentially exploring new career opportunities
- Experiencing a sense of self-motivation, achievement, and ‘feel-good.’
- Building your self-esteem and confidence.
Become a Communities@Work Volunteer
For more information, visit our Volunteer page.