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Volunteer Interview

Hear what drives people to volunteer in the community, why volunteers are important, and how to encourage people to volunteer with your organisation.

Authored by: iClick2Learn Team

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– What would be your top tips for volunteers and volunteering.

– Take any opportunity that is presented to you. Like I have taken opportunities and it’s kind of snowballed to where I currently am and I’m quite thankful for the opportunities I’ve had because they’ve helped me kind of snowball to the next thing. And every kind of volunteering opportunity that I’ve had has given me skills and experience and growth within myself to continue to do that work. And there’s no harm that can be done by taking opportunities by putting up your hand, if you get six months into it and like, oh, this isn’t really for me it’s still six months that you’ve given to an organisation in a volunteer capacity, but six months of learning and growth within yourself as well. Never be too shy to take those opportunities either. I think a lot of people are hesitant, I don’t necessarily think I have the right skills or the right fit. You have something to offer and the organisation will value whatever you have to offer. and just kind of own that confidence within your skills and your ability, but don’t necessarily see the deficits just focus on what you can actually add because you definitely have something to add to a volunteering role. And again, I think, you know self care is probably the most important thing with volunteering and establishing boundaries for yourself to, you know whether it be having a cutoff time, you know, at night to not respond to emails or look at emails or respond to text messages, you know, wait till the next morning. You and I had a bit of a chat cause I did read your message on the weekend. And I made it unread and got back to it on Monday because I don’t want to action things on a weekend because that’s my own personal time. And so I actioned it on Monday morning when I came in. Establishing those boundaries and keep practising self care taking half an hour out of your day, you know do something that you’ll enjoy find out what works best for you. Like exercise never really worked for me cause cardio is the devil, no one likes doing it but now I do aerial sports. So, pole dancing in lycra and that was an opportunity that, you know, is fitness. Exercise releases the same endorphins as cardio does just without the cardio, which is nice. But yeah, find out what works for you and make sure that you prioritise self care over everything because that will help you continue to contribute in whatever capacity you can and do.

– Nick you mentioned there about mentors. How important has it been for you to have mentors and how important in general is it for people who are volunteering, at any age, to have mentors in the volunteering space?

– I think mentors just in general, the way that we’d learn and absorb information and hear different perspectives and different kind of, I guess, voices and views on kind of what is discussed in a mentor, mentee relationship. And for me with The Pinnacle Foundation and what I think is unique about The Pinnacle Foundation is that they offer mentorships of someone with the same identity as you, whether that be sexual orientation or gender identity, in the same discipline. So essentially they have walked the path that I’m currently walking down. And I think that that’s a real the unique model because you can’t be what you can’t see. And I really like that quote because mentors give you that opportunity to see what you could potentially be, and I just think lived the experience in general. And hearing different people’s perspectives and how they view things is… It opens up your mind, as well, to different opportunities and different ways of doing things. But it is also about that unconditional kind of support and encouragement that mentors do provide. Because, again I’m going to say this probably a few times but I’m not an expert in any sense of the word. And I’d don’t necessarily consider myself as an expert because we always have more learning to do and more growing to do personally and professionally. And I think that through mentors, we continue that continuous growth and improvement within ourselves based on what they have to kind of … What advice and wisdom they do have to impart. I also think though that mentors aren’t… And again, back to the volunteering thing, none of these kind of roles are restricted by age, sexuality, gender identity, geographical location, like I was based in Dubbo but my mentor was in Bathurst which shared some commonalities, but were too distinctly different. And I’m in a bit of a programme at the moment here at Charleston that offers kind of industry mentorships for our students. And I was mentoring a 35-year-old when I’m 27. And, you know, the first kind of meeting that we had we established that I was a little bit younger, but I was kind of seen in the mentor role. And I think when we get past that view that a mentor needs to be someone older and established and, you know, 10 years down the track from you, once we break that and shift that thinking, it can really open up a lot of possibilities for everyone to learn and grow as individuals.

– That doesn’t just go for mentoring either. Does it?

– No. Definitely goes to volunteering as well. And I think valuing everyone’s lived experience and what they are able to bring based on that lived experience is what we need to focus on as opposed to, “Oh, they’re 19. So what are they going to offer?” Or, “They’re 60, what are they going to offer?” Instead of seeing that person as a person and their lived experience and their skills based on that. I think we need to move past those kind of initial barriers because it’ll open up a lot more opportunities for everyone.

– That lived experience that you bring to that role, that’s really important in volunteering in any capacity, isn’t it? But particularly with issues such as mental health.

– Oh, 100%. And I think when you did send through the questions, that was the first thing that came to mind that I really wanted to stress is that, your lived experience, anyone’s lived experience, no matter what area you are volunteering in, is what makes you such a great volunteer. And I’m not saying that I’m the most perfect volunteer in the world, and I had all those skills. And I think you used the word expertise earlier and I don’t necessarily think that’s the case because I never went in being like, “Oh, I’m volunteering with my skills and my expertise.” But it was, “I have lived experience that I can contribute to the conversation. There is an opportunity in front of me to be able to do that.” And so, yes, I’m going to put up my hand and speak about it. And I had and learned skills through my TAFE degree as well as my bachelor of social work. But at the end of the day, what drove me and helped me put up my hand was that lived experience. And it is a big movement, particularly in the mental health space to have lived experience of certain groups and populations to really inform the strategic direction of organisations, whether it be not-for-profit, government. And just as a little side note around that lived experience is, I recently put up my hand to be part of the Rainbow Lived Experience Mental Health Network for the Murrumbidgee. And that helps inform New South Wales health around my lived experience of mental health and being able to reach the IQA+ in a regional area. So at the core of volunteering, it is about your lived experience and providing that floor space from that lived experience.

– Nic, why do you do what you do? What drives you to continue to give back so much?

– Well, it is that lived experience piece that I talked about previously, but also it’s about seeing in need and then seeing an opportunity for me to be able to kind of shift that change or perception so, the work that I did in Central West Rainbow Alliance was about shifting that perception of LGBTIQA+ inclusion in regional areas because I lived all my life in regional New South Wales and I knew there was a bit of misconception and I felt that as well, like I wanted to run away to Sydney in year 12 and go to mardi gra in Oxford street because that’s where I knew I would find acceptance. And then I started to look around and be like, oh there’s actually a lot more here than I thought there was so let’s spotlight that and let’s highlight that. So it was about kind of being what I wanted to see when I was growing up and kind of putting myself out there for being that, but seeing an opportunity for me to volunteer and contribute to creating that shift because things don’t change if you let them just continue as they are, it requires a conversation, it requires a shift in perception and thinking from the wider community and I think that I did in my own way and in my part contribute to that conversation. The other, I guess, aspect of volunteering and I will talk about Pinnacle Foundation. So for the last five years I have been volunteering with them as the national scholar manager and…

– You yourself had a scholarship from the pinnacle foundation, didn’t you? You were…

– Yeah, so in 2015 and like I guess that was the other side of it, is that in 2015 the Pinnacle Foundation gave me a scholarship and mentorship in my last year of university and that changed my life. Like it was a bunch of LGBTIQA+ role models and individuals that were doing incredible work in their spaces and their sufficed influence and I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship in my last year of uni, so, yes the financial support kind of really helped but also the mentorship that they provided me. And it’s a very unique programme, the Pinnacle Foundation, it’s the only one of its kind in Australia. And then a year after I graduated from the Pinnacle Foundation, they reached out and said you have experience in mental health, would you be interested in taking on this volunteer opportunity with the Pinnacle Foundation to support the scholars in our programme ongoing? And, because Pinnacle kind of did help me and encouraged me and supported me to be my authentic self, Of course I was willing to give back and so I jumped at the opportunity and that kind of evolved over time. And then in 2018 I joined the national management committee. So, it was a very strategic kind of voice of my … and again it comes back to lived experience because I was a scholar, I knew the process of being a scholar and I could identify based on my lived experience what needed to kind of be improved or changed. And so I implemented various initiatives for the scholars and it was because of that lived experience but because pinnacle supported me so of course I wanted to give back to them.

– Most volunteers who are faired income, don’t do it for accolades, but you have been recognised on a number of occasions for your contributions to your community and to the wider community, through your Role Modelling, one of which was being named Young Professional of the year throughout Australia in 2018 and the Out Role Model at the Australian Workplace Equality Index in 2019. That’s, that’s big. Congratulations.

– Thank you.

– Whilst you don’t do it for recognition, it is to be recognised, isn’t it?

– Oh, a hundred percent, it is always overwhelming also to be recognised because the thing about those accolades is that I know it comes from the collective work of every single person that decided to volunteer. And it isn’t just ultimately my kind of accolade, it is everyone else’s, as well. And those accolades were always surprising when I was announced as I am kind of, you know, Out Role Model in particular, but I also see that as a platform to encourage others, that they can do this as well and it’s not a about, you know, being driven or arrogant or, you know, extra confident or always kind of putting yourself out there or always, you know, submitting nominations for awards. Most of the time it’s actually the opposite, people saw what I was doing and then nominated me as a result of that. But I took that as an opportunity to kind of further my reach and encourage more people to particularly be out in a regional area, and that’s kind of, you know, regional rural inclusion is at the core of what I do and I’m really lucky to work for an organisation like Charles Sturt, that really values who I am and how out I am. But also I think it is a platform to encourage others to you know, give their time and yeah, kind of, be that role model that I know they are, that perhaps they don’t necessarily see at that point in time.

– So, it’s very important for organisations to acknowledge their volunteers?

– Oh yes. And that can be just a simple, thank you. I think that that goes a long way in making sure that you prioritise doing that because often when you’re caught up in the moment on the day, you might kind of, you know, forget to do those very important things but it is also about maybe putting in a morning tea every quarter, or you know, every half year to say thank you for everything that you do because the work the volunteers do always in addition to everything else they have going on, and for me, it was working professionally but also studying and being involved in kind of, you know, other volunteering roles, not just one core part, because often extends to other things as well, while balancing self care, family and friends, loved ones, relationships, all of that that comes into it, and it is a balancing act. I think what helps with that balancing act is acknowledgement and you know, recognising the work that volunteers do.

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