18-24 May is National Volunteer Week. Each year, Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) celebrates their 600-plus volunteers who give time to clients and residents across aged and disability services throughout the year.
National volunteering week is the annual celebration to recognise the basic generosity of ordinary people who give their time to assist others.
However, this year has been a different experience for volunteers, including at VMCH, where volunteers have been unable to visit the aged care facilities where they would normally work with residents.
VMCH prides itself in recognising, encouraging, and celebrating its 600-plus volunteers, and at this uncertain time, staff at VMCH feel that it is more important than ever to acknowledge their contribution.
“We normally would have a large thank you lunch for our volunteers,” says Bridget O’Shannassy, General Manager of Mission at VMCH, and who oversees volunteers.
“This year, obviously we’ve had to think differently about how we acknowledge our volunteers. So last week, we put together a thankyou pack that was sent out to each volunteer.”
The packs contained a variety of items including VMCH notebook and pen, a certificate for those who had milestone years, a volunteer badge, a chocolate heart, and a jigsaw puzzle.
And the feedback from volunteers has been positive. “They’re loving it,” Bridget says. “They tell us it’s so nice getting a surprise in the mail.”
The most important thing about celebrating National Volunteer Week, Bridget says, is making sure that everyone is recognised.
This is especially true for those volunteers who have been offering their time in isolation.
During the lockdown, while volunteers can’t physically go on-site, organisations like VMCH have offered some unique and creative ways to keep volunteers involved remotely.
“We have the Cards of Love program, where volunteers create card packs that we send out to our aged care site for them to create cards to send to their loved ones,” says Bridget.
Another VMCH program keeping volunteers and residents remotely engaged is TeleFriend, a free service that sees trained volunteers make weekly calls to more vulnerable or socially isolated people who access VMCH services.
“TeleFriend is a simple, old-fashioned and easy way of communicating with someone,” says Sheilah Blanchfield, who has been volunteering with VMCH for ten years. As part of the program, she chats to an older woman living in an affordable housing unit. Before this, she connected with two women whose respective husbands had recently moved into aged care. “They were physically and mentally exhausted by the time their spouses went into care. Sheilah says. “The idea is really to let them talk and I listen. You can usually notice a lift in their spirits by the end of the call.”
This week, CEO Sonya Smart paid tribute to volunteers in a video uploaded to the VMCH website. “Thank you for the time and energy you bring to our VMCH community. We could not fulfil our mission without your support. You really are changing communities and changing lives.”
“A special thanks to the volunteers who have taken on second roles while at home including becoming a TeleFriend, to support those who are isolated.”
“While you may not be attending your usual program at VMCH, we still want you to know that you are missed by all of us, the residents, the clients and the staff, and we are looking forward to your safe return.”
The video contains a compilation of messages from clients to volunteers, thanking them for their support and friendship.
“Our volunteers are beautiful people, of all ages, from all different walks of life,” says Bridget. “Everyone has gifts to offer, and we welcome all to join our VMCH community. All our volunteers say they get back just as much as they put in,” she adds. “The relationships you make with fellow volunteers is such an important part. It becomes like a family. Connection and relationships is the key to our volunteering.”
If you are interested in volunteering with VMCH, call 1800 036 377 or visit: vmch.com.au/get-involved/volunteer-with-us/