Volunteers form the backbone of most charity and community organisations, yet they 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 Canberrans.
Communities@Work director of social programs and volunteering Ruth Zanker has been singing the praises of her volunteers during National Volunteer Week and is calling on the community to celebrate the valuable contribution volunteers make.
“We have more than 100 dedicated volunteers who are passionate supporters of our organisation,” says Ruth. “I can’t express how proud we were when they were nominated for the Profound Influence Award at the 2019 Volunteering Awards.
“Pre-COVID-19, our volunteers were generously donating more than 300 hours a week to help us deliver important services to the community. We couldn’t do the work we do without them.”
Communities@Work volunteers assist across most programs in the organisation, supporting vulnerable people through community food pantries, collecting donations as part of food rescue and clothing initiatives, and helping run the Best Dressed Store in Tuggeranong. Volunteers also share their skills and knowledge in Communities@Work seniors and disability programs, at the Galilee School, and by supporting family daycare playgroups.
CEO of Communities@Work and board member of VolunteeringACT, Lee Maiden, says Canberra has one of the highest rates of volunteering in Australia, with four in 10 people volunteering. However, recent survey results by VolunteeringACT shows COVID-19 has forced more than 70 per cent of Canberra organisations with volunteer programs to stand down their volunteers due to government restrictions and suspend programs during a time when organisations have seen a 31 per cent increase in demand for their services.
“COVID-19 has certainly impacted our essential support programs and volunteers,” says Ruth. “Many of our volunteers have had to suspend their volunteering due to social distancing requirements, health reasons or because of their age. This has meant some of our programs have been temporarily suspended while others have had to change the way they operate.
“Since many of our volunteers can’t physically come in, we’ve adapted our volunteer roles to fit around the different ways we are delivering our programs so the ones who are able to assist can still do so.
“We are also exploring virtual volunteering. As an example, one of our clients was really missing the art sessions she ran for our young adults living with disability, and they were missing her. So we’re going to trial running an online art session.”
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 many members of the local community as it improves the mental health and wellbeing of the volunteers themselves.
“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,” says volunteer Warren.
Communities@Work says volunteer wellbeing is one of the main reasons the organisation is focused on staying connected to its volunteers. The group has implemented a range of initiatives to ensure volunteers still feel connected to the organisation and to each other.
“We’ve sent them surveys asking what they’d like to do while they can’t see us face to face – emails and video messages to keep them in the loop – and our dedicated volunteer coordinator is connecting volunteers who wish to catch up with each other,” says Ruth. “We also hold events during the year to give them an extra special thank you.
“We can’t wait to have our volunteers back. Not just because they play such a vital role in our organisation, but because they have such great energy and bring smiles to our faces. We do miss them.”
To find out more about volunteering, please visit the Communities@Work website.
If you would like to nominate a volunteer for VolunteeringACT’s 2020 Volunteering Awards, nominations have been extended until 30 June 2020.
If you would like to show your appreciation for volunteers, join Volunteer Australia’s #waveforvolunteers campaign and upload your special smile photo. You can also send your volunteer stories to email@example.com. Visit Volunteering Australia’s website for more information.