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The volunteer sector at risk this National Volunteer Week

On the first day of National Volunteer Week, the volunteering sector is waiting to see if it will receive the funding it needs to survive in the federal budget tomorrow. 

Juniper volunteers make a big difference to the lives of people in their care (Photo: Juniper)
Juniper volunteers make a big difference to the lives of people in their care (Photo: Juniper)

A pre-budget submission and a petition produced in January by Volunteering Australia requested the Federal Government keep funding the sector, after it was announced that the Department of Social Services’ ‘Strong and Resilient Communities grants’ would eliminate funding provisions specific to volunteer services from January next year.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, voluntary work contributes 743 million hours and an estimated 290 billion dollars to the community over a 12-month period.

A third of the Australian population, or about 5.8 million people, formally volunteer, with over 68 thousand of those in aged care services.

But for the first time in nearly two decades, the number of people formally volunteering declined in 2014, down from 36 percent in 2012.

Volunteering Australia Chief Executive Officer, Ms Adrienne Picone says that in this period of “significant change and uncertainty” for the volunteering sector, the Government must continue to fund support services and management programs, “in recognition of the far-reaching contribution that they make to building strong and resilient Australian communities.”

This National Volunteer Week, many organisations have highlighted the invaluable contributions of those who volunteer with them.

Palliative Care Australia CEO Liz Callaghan says volunteers are a “vital part of ensuring that Australians get the care they need at the end of life.”

“Not only do they work directly with patients and carers, [but] as unpaid workers they provide a link between community and health care,” she says.

With demand for aged care services growing alongside Australia’s ageing population, volunteers often fill vital roles in the sector.

Juniper, a care provider with more than 450 volunteers in both regional and metropolitan areas across Western Australia and one of the largest aged care footprints in the country, is working to double it’s volunteer capacity in order to meet the needs of older people in the state.

Juniper’s Volunteer Coordinator Tim Law says volunteers make a big difference to the lives of people in their care, by undertaking all sorts of roles “from companionship, activity groups, bus and buggy driving, administration, pastoral care and even a bit of acting!”

Jennene Buckley from Feros Care, Queensland, calls volunteers “compassionate people, who genuinely care and want to help make a difference to the lives of those around them.”

She says that Feros Care had 129 active volunteers in the last financial year, in both residential villages and the community.

One of those was Brian King, a volunteer bus driver who felt it was time to “give back” to his community after living there for over 30 years, and who is reaping the personal rewards; saying he “never expected to get such a hell of a kick out of it.”

Volunteering Australia points to a “strong correlation between the well-being, happiness, health and longevity” of people who donate their time, arguing that volunteering provides a sense of self worth.

There is also a wealth of potential rewards when volunteers take the lead in shaping new programs, with The ACH Group pointing to a new music group on the Fleurieu Peninsula run by musician Kerry Reid, and Victorian Residents of the Ave Maria Village boasting the skills to use tablet computers- skills taught during weekly volunteer sessions with local man, Wayne Hughes.

In its pre-budget submission Volunteering Australia highlighted that effective, safe and efficient volunteering of this kind doesn’t “just happen”, but requires funding, leadership and local knowledge.

National Volunteer Week celebrations will continue until Sunday, with thousands of events to be held across the country, all with a resounding message of “thanks” to the 5.8 million Australians who donate their time.

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