Volunteering – Beyond Vinnies

Although statistics show that volunteer numbers in Australia have actually dropped, the number of retiree volunteers is growing as fast as the many different options available.  

Traditional volunteering situations such as St Vincent De Paul, Salvation Army and RSPCA thrift shops retain their popularity.

Many of these have now gone up-scale in terms of content and marketing, requiring more expert salesmanship,  display techniques and even computer skills of their volunteers.  Libraries, hospitals, art galleries and museums continue to rely on voluntary labour in many aspects of their operation.  

Beyond these well-known areas, however, is a whole range of volunteering opportunities for those still young and fit enough to embrace the concept of joining a new workforce – where the rewards are not measured by money.  And it’s not only the larger organisations such as the Queensland Art Gallery, Museum and Science Museum that need volunteers – our region is full of smaller galleries and museums, such as the Army Museum and the MacArthur museum, where those willing to donate their time and life skills are always very welcome.

You can get involved in the arts, environmental conservation, sports, community welfare (refugees, people living with disabilities), faith-based programs, emergency services and animal welfare.

You can use or develop skills in research, administration, tutoring, retail and management.  

The University of the Third Age (U3A) is always looking for instructors and online volunteering work is also becoming more common.

Volunteering in Queensland is sufficiently recognised by having its own patron (Governor of Queensland, The Hon. Paul de Jersey) and an ambassador, currently Diane Morgan, who has played many significant leadership roles in national and international volunteer associations, including as inaugural president of the Australian Association for Volunteering and CEO of Volunteering Queensland.  

As such, she has been involved in the development of standards, accredited training courses, policy and procedures for volunteers in non-profit organisations and pays heartfelt tribute to “the great things that are achieved every day in communities through the power of people working together in volunteer action”.  

Volunteering Queensland (volunteeringqld.org.au) is the peak body in this state and a good start for those wanting an overview of volunteering opportunities.

 Its associated website linkki.volunteeringqld.org.au  serves as a platform for directly linking would-be volunteers to community and non-profit groups that need them.

This organisation, like others involved in volunteering, offers training programs and endeavours to match volunteers with positions that best suit their skills and interests.  Volunteering Sunshine Coast  (volunteeringsunshinecoast.com.au) for example, offers workshops in financial accountability and governance, publishing (e.g. newsletters), submission writing and leading volunteers.  

At the time of writing it was seeking volunteers to drive Blue Care buses at Caloundra as well as those with art, music, and theatrical skills to support and assist the running and setting up of creative programs and activities in an aged care setting.

Those with a taste for outdoor activity and adventure can choose anything from citizen science wildlife projects to bush care to digging for dinosaurs.

Birdlife Australia and some private researchers at universities offer various programs throughout the year involving bird banding, monitoring and recording – often in remote parts of the country.

“Volunteers are matched with positions that best suit their skills and interests”

Caretaker positions for bird and other wildlife sanctuaries occasionally become available. Useful websites are birdlife.org.au and  goeco.org.  

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service seeks volunteers for controlling weeds, collecting seeds, planting native trees, helping develop, maintain and inspect tracks, data collection, providing visitor information, taking guided walks, wildlife caring and monitoring.  

Local Landcare Australia and bush care groups always need volunteers and mostly provide training and opportunities to learn more about Australian flora.  The work is not all physical – those who can handle administration work and grant applications are just as important.

When it comes to outdoor adventure, Queensland offers some unique volunteering opportunities through the Australian Age of Dinosaurs (australianageofdinosaurs.com) based at Winton.

For a modest fee (to help the project) you can learn to either dig for or prepare fossils –this activity has become so popular that you need to book well in advance.  

Nonetheless the collection of unprepared fossils is huge and the number of people to work on them small, so this volunteering opportunity is very worthwhile and something to boast about to your friends and family.  

More information on this is offered through the Queensland Museum which also has several different volunteer categories.

Retired horticulturist and rainforest ecologist Bel Wadman, 70, is a keen volunteer who teaches Japanese with U3A, has designed revegetation schemes for Landcare, banded birds and worked on threatened species surveys and spent a couple of years collating fossils for the Queensland Museum.  

“Best of all were the dinosaur digs,” she says. “They not only meant learning new skills but testing myself in tough conditions and weather extremes – they offered the perfect late-life adventure”.

For some, the ultimate volunteering experience is overseas where projects for self-funded volunteering “holidays” include education, health care, construction, teaching, marine conservation and working with wildlife.  
Popular choices with Australians include Project Vietnam and the Boon Lott elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

Several websites give information on overseas volunteering and one of the best is gviaustralia.com.au which especially caters for over 50s.  

Former teacher and journalist Elieen Walder, 72, has tackled a number of volunteer projects since retiring 10 years ago and one of her more recent ventures is Boots for Bali.  

While on holiday she observed Balinese boys playing soccer without boots or uniforms and on her return to the Sunshine Coast contacted local football clubs to donate their outgrown gear to the kids in Bali.
The project became successful enough to outfit several Balinese teams.  She has also raised funds to equip a kindergarten in Bali.  

“At first I wondered what the hell I was doing,” Eileen says, because she soon found herself busy with a variety of fundraising events.

“But then when you go there and hand over the clothes and toys and other equipment and see the joy and excitement on their faces your realise it’s all worthwhile.  Besides,” she adds, “It gets me off my butt!”

Africa also offers volunteering opportunities in both wildlife and humanitarian programs.  Sunshine Coast couple Laurie and Jenny Humphrey, both in their 70s, are currently operating a school for underprivileged children in South Africa and welcome volunteers to help out, however briefly.  Those interested can contact the Humphreys at lauriejen.zim57@yahoo.com.au.

Retired school teacher Ed Searles, 62, went to Nepal three times last year, for weeks at a time, working with the Nepal Education Fund (nepaledfund.ca). He loves it and says it gives him real purpose.

So if you’re looking for a really interesting and exciting new challenge in your retirement years why not make volunteering your new year’s resolution for 2016.

Positions vacant - Here are some ideas close to home

Noosa Care (Carramar and Kabara) is seeking community-minded professionals to become board members.  
There are a number of vacancies available for a fresh and progressive generation of professionals to join our experienced board members.  

Skills and experience would be in hospitality services, business or accounting. Noosa Care is a community-based, non-profit organisation. Carramar in Tewantin and Kabara in Cooroy have been providing high quality residential aged care to the Sunshine Coast districts for more than 30 years.

 If you would like to be part of this well established organisation, contact Megan D’Elton on 5449 8799 or email megan@noosacare.com.au

Sunshine Coast Council has a variety of volunteering opportunities.

Libraries always welcome volunteers through Friends of the Library. There are also opportunities to work in adult literacy, pass on computer skills in the library, and assist with the detective work for the genealogy collection.  

A home library service that ensures library materials are delivered to those who can’t get to the library relies on its volunteers.

A reader’s group has volunteers who visit nursing homes, hospitals and respite centres to read aloud to those who have limited reading ability.  

Visit sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au and navigate to community and volunteering, for more ideas.