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Volunteering as a way to experience true citizenship for NDIS psychosocial participants.

This week is national Volunteering Week and the theme for 2024 is ‘Something for Everyone”.  NDIS help providers could consider having a conversation with help seekers receiving psychosocial supports about volunteering.

I wonder how many people out there would like to volunteer but make assumptions about what is required or can’t even imagine what it would look like.

Have they ever volunteered?

If not, what do they think volunteering entails?

Would they be open to hearing about the benefits of volunteering?

Benefits of volunteering

Muhammed Ali’s once said that ‘service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.’

But volunteering is more than service to others there are multiple benefits that come to the volunteer as well.  Volunteering is a way to connect with other people.  It is a way to contribute and use your skills and experience.  It is a way to experience full citizenship.  It is a way to keep your mind and body active and enjoy life. It is a way to address the loneliness epidemic.

The mental health benefits alone are a good enough reason to consider volunteering.  Volunteering can reduce cortisol levels, stress and depression and according to one study increase happiness by 42% compared to non-volunteers.


Why don’t people volunteer?

The State of Volunteering in Queensland 2024 released in May found that 35.7% of Queenslanders aged 15 and over do not volunteer at all.  The report listed the top 5 barriers provided by those who don’t volunteer as no time 62.6%, 23.3% never been asked, 17.9% health reasons, 17.6% not interested in volunteering and 13.1% lack of confidence.

Some may not be aware that 27% of people who volunteer do so online or from home cutting down on time needed and no transport costs. 

Interestingly, people with caring responsibilities are more likely to volunteer. I wonder whether this was because if you have caring responsibilities, you are acutely aware of things that need doing that there is no one to do.

Also, the more hours people are in paid work, the more likely they are to volunteer. Whether this is because they have flexibility in hours or corporate opportunities to volunteer or can outsource household tasks in order to find time to volunteer was not addressed in the report.

What these statistics suggest to me is that there is value in simply inviting people to volunteer as the worst thing they say is no thanks.


How to volunteer

The report found that the top three ways people found volunteering opportunities were by word of mouth, social media and google search.

Now days there can be a lot of red tape associated with some formal volunteering due to an increase in risk aversion in society.  This results in taking more time and effort before you can even volunteer by having to do police checks, working with children checks, days of online training and other compliance activities that could put you off the whole idea if you are lacking in time or confidence.

However, there are still plenty of volunteer options that could suit you.  See below for a dozen suggestions.

Informal volunteer ideas

 Informal volunteering is defined as doing things that needs doing in the community for people outside your family or household without payment.  There is no formal organisation or group involved.

·       Donate your recyclable drink containers to a school, charity, or community group.  Containers for Change has instructions for how to do this at a collection point. If you don’t know who to donate to, there is even a list to choose from. Some community groups accept containers, and you can drop them off to them directly.  Also keep an eye out for people in community Facebook groups asking for containers who are happy to collect from you.

·       Collect rubbish when you are out on a walk.  Take a bag with you and some tongs or gloves if you like.  Consider adopting a street or a park to keep clean and beautiful.  This is an activity that can take as long or short as you want.  It can be done alone or with others and is a great habit to instil in children.

·       Join a local area Facebook group.  There are always people asking for help with various one off activities, like taking their dog for a walk while they are on holidays or filling out a survey for a study project or asking advice on the best place to walk, eat, shop or get your hair cut.

·       Get to know your neighbours.  Ask if an elderly person would like you to take them to the shops.  Offer a struggling single parent to babysit while they run an errand. If you are home during the day offer to accept package deliveries on the neighbour’s behalf.


·       Make your own or buy a Free Mum Hugs t-shirt.  Turn up to a LGBTIQA+ festival or community event in your local area and share the love.  You can also wear your shirt to the shops or on public transport, just seeing you makes people feel the world is a safer place.


·       Introverted, crafty people can knit tiny baby clothes for premature babies in hospital, sew bags for rescued native Australian animals to sleep in. Join the 1000 hearts movement hand sewing small hearts to give out as random acts of kindness.


·         Advocate for a cause by developing or sharing campaign information.  Sign an online petition.  Send an email to your local political member.  Hand out how to vote information on election day.


·       Join a support group for other people in a similar situation to yourself.  This could be a health or social issue like depression or being a widow or a parent of a child with a disability.  Have a look in a directory for a group and if there isn’t a group you can start one yourself with help from Support Groups Queensland.


·       Foster an animal.  There are rescues for every breed of dog and cat and even rat rescues. Usually, the food and medical treatment is supplied by the rescue, so it costs you nothing.  You can even be a vacation rescue person when the foster carers go on holidays.  Just google foster care RSPCA or the breed you love and rescue.


Formal volunteer ideas


·       Park Run is a welcoming, inclusive community of people. Every Saturday morning in almost 500 locations around Australia, people, dogs and prams gather to run or walk a 5km course at their own pace. Many volunteers are needed for everything from setting up to cheering people along the way and at the finish line.


·       Get involved in a citizen science project.  This is where members of the public can design experiments or collect data, analyse results to help solve problems.  This could be collecting data on how many animals or birds are in your area or monitor changes in climate over time by taking temperature every day. There is even a government website with a list of projects and how to be involved.


·       Join a bush care group to clean up a local waterway or revegetate a nature corridor, pull weeds, plant trees or help out as a one off at a planting day. There are 160 of these groups in Brisbane alone supported by the council.  There will be similar groups in other areas.  You can help out at designated times when there will be other people there or at a time to suit yourself.


·       One off event needs bulk volunteers and don’t lock you into an ongoing time commitment.  Examples include fun runs, TEDx talks, festivals, cultural events, Clean up Australia Day.  Find opportunities at go volunteer and in local social media.


·       Volunteering with young people or children is always fun and rewarding and no qualifications are needed.  Consider mentoring in high schools with the Raise Foundation or helping a child in foster care discover a love of learning with the Pyjama Foundation.  Many schools run a free breakfast program so if you know how to make toast you are welcomed with open arms.

How can you share the joy of volunteering as an option for a healthy Mind-Life and to experience full citizenship?

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