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Despite the common conception that most volunteers are retirees with time to spare, there are plenty of young people who offer their commitment and services to help make the world a better place.
This week (May 20-26) marks National Volunteer Week (NVW), an annual celebration of the many Australians — from all ages, backgrounds and areas — who volunteer on a regular basis, often to multiple causes and organisations.
Let’s take nutritionist, writer and student, 29-year-old Samantha Gemmell, as an example, who first started volunteering as a pre-teen.
“My parents volunteered for the CFA, so when I was about 11 or 12 I joined them,” says Samantha, who lives in Melbourne.
“Sometimes I volunteer because I am passionate about a certain issue, other times it’s because I want to learn more about it.”
Over the past 10 years, Samantha has volunteered for numerous events across Victoria, donated services to various non-profits and causes, and most recently has helped with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program at Wonga Park Primary School.
In February, she even traveled to northern Greece to work with refugees through volunteer organisation, Involvement Volunteers International.
“They were the most vulnerable people, and it was really tough and it broke my heart, but it made such a difference and really changed my perspective on life,” Samantha says of her time in Greece.
“We went over there to help with nutrition, but I found what people really wanted was for someone to listen to their stories because they had never had anyone do that for them before.
“That was what made a huge difference.”
Samantha, who is completing a masters in food systems and gastronomy, is also a regular volunteer at the Sustainable Living Festival, and still enjoys visiting Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden in Melbourne and seeing the fruits of “the kids’ work, and what they are growing”.
“Volunteering makes you feel good, and there is research that backs that up,” Samantha says.
“Because I work in health, I really enjoy that feeling of helping people and when it is on a volunteer rather than a paid basis you’re giving out of your own desire to help someone feel better.”
Samantha believes it’s a myth that you need lots of spare time to volunteer, pointing out that some of the busiest people she knows are the ones who make time for others.
“I am a very busy person, who works full-time and studies part-time, and I still find the time,” Samantha says.
“There are lots of benefits to volunteering: you can volunteer in a field that is a passion, but you’re not able to make money off. Or you could test your interest in a certain field by volunteering in that sector to see if it suits.”
Samantha is far from alone in her enthusiasm for volunteering, and according to the 2016 State of Volunteering in Australia report, 93 per cent of volunteers saw positive changes as a result of their volunteering efforts.
Furthermore, 99 per cent of volunteers said they would continue to volunteer into the future, with 60 per cent of people claiming volunteering improves their patience skills.
Corporations are cottoning on to the positive ramifications of volunteering, too, encouraging staff to devote their time and energy to a cause they’re passionate about.
GoodCompany is an Australia and New Zealand service that describes itself as a “giving, volunteering, fundraising and rewards platform”.
The service connects volunteers within companies, as well as individuals, with those in need of help, and the service has worked with ANZ, Optus, IAG, Flight Centre, AGL, NBN, CSL, MYOB, Westpac and many more.
“We connect companies to more than 1500 charities to volunteer, donate and fundraise to enhance company culture and increasing staff attraction, retention and engagement,” said CEO and Founder of GoodCompany, Ash Rosshandler.
“Thankfully, the 1980s adage that ‘greed is good’ is dead and today it’s ‘good is good’.
“Professionals are looking for workplaces with meaning and purpose and giving something back to the community.”
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This story was written by Johanna Leggatt. Johanna is an Australian journalist with more than 15 years’ experience in both print and online. She has worked across a wide range of subject areas, including health, property, finance, interiors, and arts.