DIRECTOR of the Australian-Italian Festival and IDP regular contributor, Ann Vardanega knows all too well the value of volunteers when coordinating and executing a large-scale event like the Australian-Italian Festival. In her article, Ann takes a look at the significance of volunteers and how communities rely heavily on their contributions. She talks with local volunteer groups on the challenges they face with recruiting and retaining members and the benefits that come from giving back to the community.
The value of volunteers
With Australia Day now passed and awards distributed to our hard-working volunteers for their service to our community, I thought it timely to applaud all the volunteers in our district who give their time freely. This article is a call out and acknowledgement to all our community volunteers.
If we consider all those who are nominated and successful in being awarded for their community spirit, I would suggest both these groups are just the tip of the iceberg. I think it is time to have that conversation about the value of our volunteers in a community and what would happen if they were not available.
I would imagine if you ask any service club or organisation that relies on volunteers to exist, they will tell you volunteers are getting harder to find and those who currently volunteer are ageing.
Look around your district and identify these organisations. I will attempt to do so. They include sporting clubs, school tuckshops, other school and parent groups, church committees, the Herbert River Museum and local history organisations. Other groups such as Meals on Wheels, St Vincent De Paul Society, Life Line, Endeavour Foundation, Forrest Beach surf lifesavers and the Ingham Coastguard provide essential services all with volunteer labour. Local events that rely on volunteers include the Maraka Festival committee, the local show association, Sugar City Rodeo and the Australian Italian Festival.
The Hinchinbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry relies on volunteers who in turn, support our local business and tourism industries. Our progress associations at Lucinda, Taylors Beach and Forrest Beach are all volunteer-run. Finally, there are our service clubs, Rotary, Lions and Apex.
As the Australian Italian Festival director, I can tell you that the nearly 150 volunteers donate countless hours to making our event successful. I estimated that the value of these volunteers (hours) would be almost $80,000 if we had to pay a basic wage to each. And this is for an event which runs for a short time each year, not an organisation which runs all year, or in the case of a sporting club perhaps more seasonally. We are incredibly grateful for the assistance of each and every one of our volunteers, however, we are always looking for new people to assist and reaching out to a younger demographic for input.
There is no way these groups could continue to be financially viable if they pay employees instead of being run by volunteers. So, I would like you to consider for a moment the financial value these volunteers contribute to our small district each year.
However, the problem is that volunteers are becoming hard to find. Is the generation of giving back to our community through volunteering now passing?
I reached out to some of these organisations for input into this article. And what was noticeable is we all were in a similar position.
Hinchinbrook Rotary Club President, Andrew Cripps, said while the people of the Herbert River district had always been generous with their time and money for good causes and community events, volunteers were becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Our local community is quick to rally for a good cause and there is a lot of support for community events, but it appears that people are much more reluctant to join service clubs or community organisations and make a long term commitment.Andrew Cripps, President Hinchinbrook Rotary Club.
“I think the local community in the Herbert River district need to be aware that a number of our community events will be at risk if the next generation of volunteers in our community organisations and service clubs don’t come forward soon,” he said.
Mr Cripps acknowledged that modern life, particularly family life, was busy and people were time poor, but he believed the social fabric of the Herbert River district community was enhanced by volunteers and community events and it would be sad to lose them.
Being a total volunteer organisation presents many problems for Ingham Coastguard due to their work requirements.
Ingham Coastguard’s Steve Whipps said, “It is almost impossible to recruit younger people, as they generally work for a living, and they are not going to climb out of bed at 2:00 am on a stormy night to spend six hours searching for a distressed vessel in rough seas.”
For this reason, most of their volunteers are retirees, who have the time to commit to turning out, and can attend mid-week training sessions. This cohort, however, presents its own problems, as most people aged over 65 have ongoing health issues and are not as physically strong or agile as they once were.
We do have good numbers at present, which allows us to turn out when needed; however, we are all getting older. The need for younger volunteers is imperative. The old TV show “Dad’s Army” relates quite well to the Coast Guard, sadly. Losing glasses overboard, arthritis, obesity, seasickness, poor eyesight and lack of strength are issues we deal with all the time. Therein lies our dilemma.
Steve Whipps, Media Officer for Ingham Coastguard.
Last year’s Hinchinbrook Shire Citizen of the Year, Peter Reitano sums it up well.
I enjoy volunteering as it gives back to the community that I have lived all my life in. I have a quote that sits on my desk that is from Margaret Mead about Teamwork that says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
Peter Reitano, Hinchinbrook Shire 2021 Citizen of the Year.
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer? If so, contact any of the organisations listed. I know that the Australian Italian Festival is looking for new volunteers. The commitment there is only a few days a year around festival time.
Volunteering is a great way to meet people and become part of our community for those who have recently come to our district to live. There are many positive reasons to volunteer, including social interaction, serving others, building community resilience, learning new skills, facing new challenges, increases self-confidence and promotes mental and physical health.
For those who do give their time freely, then a huge thank you to you all. You are the life blood of our community.
If you are interested in volunteering at this year’s Australian-Italian Festival then contact Ann at the festival office on 47765288, or visit the office at 32 Herbert Street, Ingham. This year’s festival will be held on the 4 and 5 June at the Tyto Parklands.