Ballarat volunteers explain why they donate their time

Ballarat volunteer Jeff Ashmore, who is a foster parent with his wife Susie Meadows. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Ballarat volunteer Jeff Ashmore, who is a foster parent with his wife Susie Meadows. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

FOR those who have never given volunteering a try, the two big questions are how and why. As National Volunteers Week celebrates its 25th year, Patrick Byrne finds some of the answers.

THE biggest challenges in life often reap the greatest rewards.

It's with that sentiment many volunteers in the community do what they do.

Dedicating their spare time, without any financial incentive, for the benefit of others is daunting.

But for many, it turns out to be the highlight of their lives.

There wasn't a particular moment when foster parents Jeff Ashmore and wife Susie Meadows knew what they were doing was worth it.

Foster parents to nine- and 10-year-old boys for the past five years, the pair says it's one of the most vital volunteer roles in a community.

"It's probably more important than anything," Mr Ashmore says.

"To be able to make such a difference in someone's life, if you can, is just so incredibly important."

Jeff Ashmore and Susie Meadows with their family. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Jeff Ashmore and Susie Meadows with their family. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Speaking of all children – the pair each have two of their own – Mr Ashmore said it was up to everyone capable of helping to consider it.

"These are our children and we all have a stake in them," he says.

"No one should be happy to let these kids just sink... because we (the community) will end up wearing it.

"And we see that everywhere."

Caring for often vulnerable and traumatised children of all ages, foster parents are just some of the volunteers in the community who perform one of the most challenging roles.

For Ms Meadows, a Department of Human Services worker, she began a fostering role after years spent offering respite care to young children taken from their parents.

When she met Mr Ashmore, she already had one foster child in her care.

"I guess it was part of the package," Mr Ashmore says with a laugh.

"But I tell you what, I wouldn't change a thing.

"Sometimes things happen to us in our lives in which you might not choose to do something, you might think 'well that's too hard', but when the opportunity is presented to you... you may then find that it actually works and you get used to it.

"You think 'well okay, I can still have a life', and it can still have very positive outcomes for everyone involved."

With the passion and love for all their children beaming from their faces, the parents recall a recent moment when the rewards of foster care shone through.

"The other day we were on the beach at Point Lonsdale, on the dog beach, and we’ve got a couple of dogs and they were running along the beach," Mr Ashmore says.

"And number two foster child is in the water just having the time of his life... they're the moments where you say 'now there's a happy kid', and that's what it's all about."

But it's not just incredible parents dedicating most of their lives in volunteer roles.

Others, including Ballarat nurse Fiona Strauss and Rotary member Ross Huntington, complete behind-the-scenes work which generally goes unnoticed.

Fiona Strauss, who provided assistance on Anzac Day. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Fiona Strauss, who provided assistance on Anzac Day. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Ms Strauss, a nurse at Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital for almost 20 years, recently funded a trip to Gallipoli where she utilised her skills to make sure the elderly and those with mobility issues were able to witness one of life's most moving services – the Anzac Day dawn service.

Selected as part of a program run by Conservation Volunteers, Ms Strauss spent two weeks in Gallipoli ensuring the vulnerable were able to attend Gallipoli just like anyone else.

A humble Ms Strauss, who often mentions she isn't "saving the world", says the volunteer role never feels like a chore.

"We just did all we could to help make the experience a little easier for others, including the elderly," she says.

"Whether it was helping them off buses, keeping them warm and rugged up, or even just noticing if something was wrong and getting them to a medical tent."

"I love travelling and with this trip I was able to pair that with my nursing skills" - Fiona Strauss

Although the role may be different to foster parents, Ms Strauss said any volunteer role had its rich reward.

"Everyone had their different reasons for being there, but mine was just to help out others so they could be there and enjoy the experience," she says.

"Sometimes it's the smallest things we can do which really help others, and that for me is what volunteering is all about.

"The benefit to the community from my experience will hopefully showcase that volunteering does not have to involve hard work."

Ms Strauss says volunteering should be seen as an opportunity and she encourages people considering it to try and combine a passion with a skill set.

"For me, I love travelling and with this trip I was able to pair that with my nursing skills," she says.

"I'd encourage everyone to give it a go in some form."

Mr Huntington has been a Rotary member in Ballarat for more than 10 years and says the volunteer organisation is one of the best ways to kick off a life of volunteering.

Ross Huntington, who volunteers with Rotary. PICTURE: KATE HEALY

Ross Huntington, who volunteers with Rotary. PICTURE: KATE HEALY

"That's how it all started for me and it’s been a rewarding experience," he says.

When not fulfilling his full-time role as general manager at Gold Bus Ballarat, Mr Huntignton can be found organising a range of activities and events for one of Ballarat's Rotary chapters.

The 43-year-old says what started as a bid to meet new people soon tuned into a life which largely revolved around volunteering for the benefit of the community.

"Look that's really what it's all about," he said from his workplace where he spends more than 40 hours a week.

"For me, volunteering is getting out there, meeting new people and at the same time knowing you are doing something which really benefits the rest of the community.

"It's really not a big deal though... it's one of those things that the more you do, the less you think about it."

"It's one of those things that the more you do, the less you think about it" - Ross Huntington

One example of Rotary's work is the annual Ballarat Swap Meet.

"Getting that up and running every year is a huge thing... each year it's a bit like 'phew, how did we manage that'," he says.

He said the nine Rotary clubs in Ballarat met weekly to discuss plans for a range of Ballarat events.

"Basically, we do some fundraising and other bits and pieces, anything we can really, to help deliver funds back into the community."

In a similar sentiment which rings true with most volunteers, Mr Huntington said volunteering doesn't always mean dedicating all you spare time.

"A small amount of time, if everyone works together, can have enormous results," he says.

"It's as simple as that."

Maybe those of us who have never volunteered are yet to discover one of life's greatest secrets.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop