People often think of volunteering as like ‘giving back’ but local community enthusiast Joanne Watt believes there is more to it.
“I don’t get that terminology,” Ms Watt said.
She views volunteering as more of an exchange.
“I think it might encourage you to be more empathetic to people with different circumstances to your own,” she said.
Ms Watt started volunteering with a Warragul-based social group for people with disabilities run by not-for-profit Headway Gippsland about five years ago.
“I just encouraged conversation among the group members. I instigated new activities as I had skills in jewellery making, clay and we did some cooking,” she said.
She was even able to draw on her background in dance and run some movement sessions.
“There was lots of laughter,” she said.
Part of her role was ensuring they had a plan B in case a guest speaker did not show, or it was “40 degrees and blowing a gale”.
Once when their plans went out the window, she raided her pantry to whip together some emergency gingerbread dough.
“We rolled out some bikkies and invited the senior citizens for afternoon tea who share the rooms with us. That was a really nice highlight,” she said.
“There’s lots of scope to use your initiative to do as little or as much as you’re comfortable with when you’re a volunteer.”
Ms Watt describes volunteering as a great way to stay engaged with the wider world and the social aspect can be great for mental health.
However, she knows from experience volunteering can also be a stepping stone to paid work.
Today Ms Watt is the coordinator of Headway Gippsland’s Trafalgar social support group, which meets weekly on a Monday.
She describes it as like a “friendship group” for people with disabilities where participants can go at their own pace.
“I think when people have a disability, they can feel like friendships fall away,” Ms Watt said.
“Regardless of their physical abilities or other health issues, people still want to be included, they still want to be challenged and stimulated and make friendships. People are people really.
“You can’t make friendships happen but you can support the group.”
Headway Gippsland is now calling for volunteers to join the members of its social support groups in their conversations, activities and outings.
Warragul coordinator Michelle Meggetto said the groups met once a week for about five hours but volunteers could offer as little or as much time as they wanted.
“Volunteers can come for one, two or even five hours and it could be weekly, fortnightly or even monthly,” she said.
“It’s a good way of meeting new people and being part of the community, which can help you feel more connected and valued and improve your wellbeing.”
Other benefits to volunteering include relieving stress, building self-esteem, sharing skills and offering more meaning to your life, Ms Meggetto said.
Headway Gippsland has social support groups in Warragul, Trafalgar, Morwell and Wonthaggi.
To find out more, phone Headway Gippsland on 5127 7166 or visit headwaygippsland.org.au/volunteer to register your interest.
National Volunteer Week is May 17 to 23. For more, go to volunteeringaustralia.org.