This is a time in global history when the notion of sustainability beats hands-down the targets and more targets mores ensconced in the profit making/business sector. Profit motives are about more and more; which usually means consumption, productivity, winners and therefore losers.

Sustainability within a community structure is about service, people, keeping on keeping on. Sure, we need funding but this is always about enough – enough for our services, enough for our new projects, enough to keep going for another year. Winning is about us all surviving, remaining sustainable and building a stronger community base for our causes.

Some of these causes are the result of past and present crises, some are about our quality of life and some are about our health and well-being, and physical and spiritual growth and development. We at Volunteer Wellington work with 370+ communities from greater Wellington. When we recently celebrated and acknowledged International Volunteer Managers Day last year with an impressive number of volunteer managers and administrators of all ages and representing hugely diverse organisations, we were reminded of the calibre and organisational skill and competence in our midst.

We heard about a Red Cross shop recently opened in Petone. Top end of the market second-hand clothes. A new look for changing times. The cause is funds for the Red Cross. Labour force – managed ably be Renee Remakers – 30 volunteers. The clothes will appeal to executives who may well in the future experience reduced incomes (one leading British Bank has not just fired all top managers but cut staff salaries across the board by 10%); and the volunteering opportunities will give people the chance to learn new skills, remain active if they are unemployed, feel valued – and have fun.

Renee assured us in her message to volunteer managers, ‘the shop’s environment will be a lively, fun place to be. People will want to come to their voluntary work.’

The next story was from Ngaire Leighton, also from the Red Cross and who manages the Breakfast In Schools Programme in Porirua. Another young, bright volunteer co-ordinator making sure she understands the motives of her volunteers and works with them accordingly.

Volunteers from both of these above projects will move on to paid work with a richer CV and someone to speak for them. (It’s extremely difficult to find referees for newcomers to New Zealand and also those with limited work experience.) Others will become long-term and in turn lead and train the next intake of volunteers who join their teams. Whether long or short term, both sides of the coin will move into the wider community as enthusiastic marketers and promoters of the cause with which they have been volunteering.

That is why creative, energetic managers/co-ordinators are the backbone of a sustainable community sector. They understand the potential of volunteers and how much value is added to their programmes when they create interesting, challenging volunteering roles.

They also understand short-term and their responsibility to society, as managers, to be inclusive and ensure that volunteering is accessible to all sectors of the community. This extract from a story written by volunteer writer Michelle Guest for Volunteer Wellington, talks about building capacity – the core of being sustainable.

Cathy Liew has worked at the Vincentian Home and Hospital for the Elderly in Berhampore for 11 years. In the course of her important work as an occupational therapist she also coordinates the volunteers who add so much value to her varied role. With a team of 14 and 50 residents it’s easy to see that Cathy hardly had time to fit in such extras as this interview.

When a volunteer makes contact with Cathy she talks with each one individually, assessing their skills and how they will add to the recreation programme. ‘I had the idea at an OT conference in Melbourne. Over there they use heaps of volunteers. They have become a hugely valuable resource to me.’

Five of her volunteers are from Volunteer Wellington. One is a reflexologist who comes in once a week to offer massage therapy and to chat. The residents adore Sarah, a 20-year-old student of anthropology who plays 500 and bridge with the ladies. As part of her course Sarah had to observe a group outside of her own demographic, so she chose the Vincentian. She has continued volunteering beyond course requirements.

A Taiwanese ex-volunteer still visits the home twice a year, ‘just to pop in and keep in touch,’ Cathy says. ‘She came to us originally to practise English but she was an excellent violinist. So she played for the residents. They loved it.’

Cathy also adds how ethnically diverse her volunteers are. ‘Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Italian, German – they come here to practise English. The residents get to talk to someone for an hour when we just don’t have that time.’

Although the volunteers are mostly women, there are men too. Most are young. They are given the chance to use their skills in a recreational role, or to develop English as a second language.

For the residents they bring a little sunshine; and to Cathy Liew they’re an invaluable human resource. They allow the luxury of focus, making it possible for her to deliver one-on-one programmes. ‘Volunteers make it possible for individual needs to be met – that’s their absolute value.’

‘Volunteers make it possible for individual needs to be met – that’s their absolute value. They are a hugely valuable resource to me.’

Pauline H and Michelle Guest

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About Volunteer Wellington

Volunteer Wellington | Te Puna Tautoko is the champion of volunteering in New Zealand Aotearoa!

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