‘Rock’ of the office driven to help others

‘Rock’ of the office driven to help others

Described as the ‘Rock’ of the Oasis office, Erin Donnelly, an ex-chief clerk in the Army, had plenty to keep her busy and happy but felt there was room for volunteering to be a part of her retirement.

Erin joined The Oasis Townsville, a referral and support hub, in 2018, an appointment she describes as ‘natural and fitting’ considering her strong connection to the ADF. Enthusiastic and professional, she soon became pivotal in bringing the organisation closer to their objectives in her role as Volunteer Manager.

In order to better understand the nuances of volunteer management, Erin took on professional development and a secondment with another volunteering organisation early on. This created a solid foundation for The Oasis Townsville to manage the incoming flux of volunteers.

After spending long hours creating policy and procedure, organising the office, developing the Service Directory, being a warm and supportive leader, Erin has had the biggest role of any of the Oasis Townsville volunteers outside the board of directors. Besides her volunteer management role, Erin takes on whatever tasks need completing. The Oasis Townsville Chairman shares “it is often hard to describe in traditional terms what her job is given she does so much to keep the entire operation running and everyone knows it!”

Erin said, “Whilst I gained many skills during my working life, I believe there is always something new to learn or a skill to improve on. I particularly like volunteering with people who have the same drive to do what they can to help others. Giving back to the community by volunteering my time is very rewarding. Every little bit of time you give goes towards making a difference for all of us.”

To anyone considering volunteering, Erin said, “Give it a go. It is very rewarding and worthwhile and a bit different to working in paid employment. Also, give some thought to why you want to volunteer and with which organisation. It is important to ensure your volunteer experience is a good one. You can always change where and with whom you volunteer if it’s not a fit for you. Spread the love as I tend to say!”

Erin was nominated and shortlisted for the Heart of Volunteering Award at the 2020 NQ Volunteer of the Year Virtual Awards.

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Inspiring a community rich in volunteers and volunteering!

Funded Through:

VNQ acknowledges the Australian Government Department of Social Services Volunteer Management Activity funding received through Volunteering Queensland.  

Supported By:

VNQ acknowledges the support received from Townsville City Council for its Community Training Initiative.  

Peddling his way into the hearts of those in need

Peddling his way into the hearts of those in need

He wanted to ride fast and feel the wind on his face. He feared going fast and preferred to ride steadily. She needed every move explained – turning right, turning left, stopping, crossing a road, going up a hill, down a hill and so on in order to feel safe.

These are just some of the needs John Morton takes into account when he becomes the ‘Captain’ on a tandem bicycle and takes a ‘Stoker’ up behind him when they go on a long, leisurely ride around Ross River or out to the port or Pallarenda. The Stokers who ride with John can be hearing or vision impaired, have conditions such as Downs Syndrome or suffer brain trauma from motor vehicle accidents. Whatever their situation, they are unable to ride a pushbike and get out into the natural environment on their own.

John says, “No two clients are alike and I first need to understand and then accommodate their expectations and anxieties in order to make their ride enjoyable.” One lady who was vision impaired wouldn’t ride with anyone else but John. He calmed her anxieties about not being able to see where she was going by describing and explaining every move so she could anticipate the movements and sensations. The impact these weekly rides have on the mental health and well-being of the clients is immeasurable.

John has always volunteered in some capacity for his community. As a younger man, he was the president of the Townsville Veteran’s Tennis Club for 35 years. He served on several Parents and Friends Committees whilst his children were at school; was involved in the administration of the local Scout’s group; was the cricket club president and an athletics and cricket club coach.

John juggled these duties whilst working for 42 years in a high-pressured job spending much of his time in front of a computer. When he retired from this career at 60 years of age, John decided to do something very different with far less pressure and that led to volunteering in a range of positions for a range of organisations namely, the Ozcare Villa Vincent Aged Care Facility; the Townsville Tandem Pushbike Club and Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA).

John says, “What I love about my volunteering work with these organisations is the complete reversal of my former role, the fact that I am outdoors and physically active and the challenge I set myself to learn a very different range of skill sets and ways of operating with people.”

At Ozcare Villa Vincent, John assists in maintaining the extensive grounds and gardens. There are endless rows of hedges to be trimmed, multiple lawns to be mowed, boundless weeds to be pulled out of garden beds, pruning, raking, fertilising, planting and watering to be done.

John interacts with a majority of the residents as he makes his way around the grounds and gardens of the facility. A wave, a greeting, a chat, all enhance the quality of life for the residents of Villa Vincent. The elderly men, in particular, enjoy having another man about the complex to talk to as they live in a largely female oriented establishment. As John says, ‘I’m not under pressure to perform now. I can stop for 10 minutes and pass the time of day with a resident who wants to talk to me.” As a number of residents are socially isolated, a chin wag with John adds value and meaning to their day. Knowing that he is going to be there twice a week gives them something to look forward to.

John says, “It’s like a smorgasbord. I can do whatever I like and know that anything I do adds value to the establishment and the lives of the residents.”

Within Conservation Volunteers Australia, John travels an area bounded by Magnetic Island, Cape Upstart near Ingham and Home Hill to work with a crew who clean up beaches, remove weeds and rubbish from endangered ecosystems and aid in conserving areas of native bushland. It is hard physical work, especially through our summers but John says, “I like to get in and get the work done.”

“I will be volunteering long down the track. I’m here for the fun of it. It’s great for my mental and physical health and gives me a sense of pride. I’m always thinking about what I have to do next. And it keeps me connected to my community.”

John was nominated and shortlisted for the Heart of Volunteering Award at the 2020 NQ Volunteer of the Year Virtual Awards.

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Inspiring a community rich in volunteers and volunteering!

Funded Through:

VNQ acknowledges the Australian Government Department of Social Services Volunteer Management Activity funding received through Volunteering Queensland.  

Supported By:

VNQ acknowledges the support received from Townsville City Council for its Community Training Initiative.  

Handled with care…the natural world and cultural history in safe hands

Handled with care…the natural world and cultural history in safe hands

For more than 40 years, Liz Downes has been volunteering her time, expertise and skill for a number of community organisations. She currently volunteers for Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and the JCU’s Mabo Library (Special Collections).

Liz said, “I have always been passionate about nature conservation and protecting our environment and wildlife so it seemed natural to want to put that into practice. My volunteering with JCU’s Mabo Library was prompted by my interest in local history and cultural heritage and a wish to remain connected with the institution where I had worked for many years.”

Involved with the conservation movement since the 1980s, Liz cites her involvement with the historic Torres Strait pigeon monitoring project off the coast of Cardwell as a highlight. She first started taking part in the project in 1994.

“It has been a joy and a privilege to be a part of such a nationally important endeavour that keeps watch over one of our most beautiful birds, once pushed almost to extinction by illegal shoots, dramatic loss of habitat along the coast and the devastation of cyclones. The dedication of the volunteers who have been keeping this project going for over 50 years is both a great inspiration and a true labour of love,” Liz said.

 “Nature conservation can be a heart-breaking activity as we see more and more species pushed to the brink and more and more habitats and ecosystems degraded or lost. Maintaining hope and purpose in such circumstances can be very difficult and burn-out is always waiting in the wings.”

Liz recently came across this quotation from a 19th century American author: ‘I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.’

The quote resonated with Liz because she felt it perfectly reflected her friend’s philosophy and that its message may help other volunteers guard against feelings of helplessness or burn-out. Liz explained, “In the early 1980s, I was fortunate to meet Arthur and Margaret Thorsborne, a remarkable North Queensland couple who dedicated their lives to living lightly on the earth and to the study and protection of the natural world. Margaret remained a dear friend and a profound inspiration until her death in 2018. Despite increasing age, frailty and other hardships she never gave up and remembering her passion and perseverance can be a powerful motivator.”

Liz will be well known to many through a regular radio series as well as her entertaining blog posts that number more than 60. It is Liz’ research and storytelling ability that has enabled the Special Collections at JCU Library to gain such a following. Her gift in locating and revealing stories of historical significance has been instrumental in connecting our history to around 14,000 radio listeners to the ‘White Gloves’ series on ABC North Queensland.

 “The Special Collections of JCU’s Mabo Library is a wonderful repository of north Queensland’s cultural heritage and history that is made available to the wider community as well as to academic researchers, Liz said.”

The recipient of the Heart of Volunteering Award at this year’s Virtual NQ Volunteer of the Year Awards, Liz humbly declared she’s sure all volunteers will agree that all achievements are made possible through the work of a team, not just one individual.

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Inspiring a community rich in volunteers and volunteering!

Funded Through:

VNQ acknowledges the Australian Government Department of Social Services Volunteer Management Activity funding received through Volunteering Queensland.  

Supported By:

VNQ acknowledges the support received from Townsville City Council for its Community Training Initiative.  

Volunteering a way of life for recipient of NQ Youth Volunteer Award

Volunteering a way of life for recipient of NQ Youth Volunteer Award

Sarah McDonnell says she doesn’t know who she’d be without volunteering.

The recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award at this year’s Virtual NQ Volunteer of the Year Awards, Sarah started volunteering at just 12 years of age. At 15, her volunteer horizons expanded when she became eligible to volunteer for leadership roles.

Now aged 17, Sarah believes everyone has a role to play in making a difference to our world and she hopes to inspire the next generation… the leaders of tomorrow.

Sarah said “Giving back to the community has always been valued in my family for generations. Living in a small rural community has taught me that there is always someone who could use a hand. I have learned the meaning of community spirit by supporting local businesses, clubs and organisations trying to do their part to benefit the community.”

That support has seen Sarah successfully complete multiple projects with the Burdekin Shire Youth Council and Ayr State High School Interact Club.  She helped write a youth bill decriminalising sex work, established her high school’s recycling project and assembled birthing kits to donate internationally to aid countries in need.

As Sarah’s confidence grew, she started to apply for executive positions and in 2016 and 2017, she was elected Secretary for Interact and Youth Council.

“I learnt how to prepare official documents including minutes, agendas and how to write formal emails/letters. In later years, I was elected Vice President of Interact and Youth Mayor for BSYC. In these roles, I acted as a leader to fellow members and represented both organisations at formal events. I presented speeches and worked closely with other school/community leaders to support traditional initiatives and initiate new ones, creating a vibrant Burdekin community for all residents,” Sarah said.

Sarah shares one of the new fundraising initiatives she introduced in the Burdekin.

“I registered with Share the Dignity Australia to become a ‘Shero’ and each week in April, I collected and counted the products donated in a collection bin at Woolworths. To raise additional funds and awareness, I established a coin donation tin at my school canteen and asked students and staff to donate spare change. In just four weeks, I managed to raise $260. At the time, I was also volunteering at Ayr Rotary so I mentioned my achievement to them. One of the members was so impressed, he personally matched the amount raised by Ayr State High School and donated additional money, bringing the funds raised to $530”.

“I headed to my local Woolworths and purchased a trolley full of sanitary item packets. I must admit, despite the stares and questioning looks, I was so excited to make a difference to these women. At the conclusion of the Dignity Drive, the Burdekin community and I had managed to collect almost 230 packets of sanitary items. After all this hard work, I was saddened to hear they would be sent to Brisbane and not generated back into the Burdekin. So, I consulted Share the Dignity and they allowed me to donate every single packet locally to help women and girls in need. This was the first Dignity Drive in the Burdekin and I am so grateful to have such a supportive community.”

Elected 2020 School Captain of Ayr State High School, much of Sarah’s focus this year has been towards the school’s Student Council, however she is still invested in both the Burdekin Shire Youth Council and Share the Dignity as the Burdekin ‘Shero.’

Sarah encourages anyone considering volunteering to follow their heart. She said volunteering has changed her life.

“Volunteering has become such a foundational part of my identity. I have transformed from a reluctant, apprehensive year seven student to a confident, motivated and dedicated volunteer and leader within my community. I have learnt to accept difference and love my individuality. I have learnt countless skills, been exposed to a variety of charities and made lifelong friends. Giving back has given me so much and I am humbled to have supported my small town, nation and international community. My leadership roles have allowed me develop communication skills, confidence in public speaking and to show younger students how rewarding volunteering can be. I have the courage to pursue a passion, no matter how difficult and strive to ensure everyone in life can have equitable opportunities. Volunteering has allowed me to change many lives, including my own.”

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Inspiring a community rich in volunteers and volunteering!

Funded Through:

VNQ acknowledges the Australian Government Department of Social Services Volunteer Management Activity funding received through Volunteering Queensland.  

Supported By:

VNQ acknowledges the support received from Townsville City Council for its Community Training Initiative.