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.”