A key misconception surrounding volunteering is the preconceived notion that everyday Australians are not equipped with the tools needed to make a difference.
Leadership Ballarat and Western Region alumni Belinda Burley knows better than most that anyone can make the world a better place, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Earlier this year Mrs Burley decided on a whim that she would spend her holidays assisting with the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners – a volunteer-based group who assist struggling and drought afflicted farmers in northern Australia.
Her role began through a spur of the moment decision to contribute to a good cause, but has since manifested into a crucial cog in a program that delivers key support to one of Australia's most important industries.
“I got involved in the hay runs in January purely through social media,” she said.
“I contacted Brendan Brendan (Farrell, founder of the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners) and said if you need a hand, I'm around. That was on a Saturday and they were leaving for the next run on Wednesday.
“I just turned up and ended up in a truck (and went from there).”
Now Ms Burley manages the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners’ social media accounts, the group’s media commitments and merchandising as well as fundraising and sponsorship events – a demanding job, given the organisation has reached national acclaim for its contributions, with the last run delivering 13,500 round and square bales of hay worth $6 million for farmers in need.
“I probably spend anywhere upwards of 20 hours a week doing work for the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners,” she said.
“My original request to him (Brendan) was how can I help - what skills have i got to make his life easier?
“I'm called the city chick out of everybody involved, and (at first) I didn't really know what I could do to help them.
“A great thing to take out of it is that all you have to do is put your hand up and say ‘how can I help?’
“People say ‘I don't know what I can do to help’, but it’s about making sure that you can put your hand up – the message there is don't get caught up in what value you can add, just put your hand up.”
That ‘how can I help mentality’ was instilled in Belinda, and with many others, through the Leadership Ballarat and Western Region program.
LBWR executive officer Sofia Fiusco said the program has proved pivotal in helping aspirational volunteers learn to channel their work and life skills into volunteering.
Ms Fiusco said those who dedicate their time to their community develop a “deep sense of self”.
“They do it because they feel it’s a need – they are often very humble people about what they do,” she said.
“When you consider that many organisations could not deliver what they need to on the budgets that they have – they rely upon volunteers with a skill set such as accounting, education, health and well being and the understanding of the broad picture to actually achieve their goals.
“It’s all about the greater good, working together with an organisation to deliver services or outcomes that will ensure the organisation itself will meet its requirements to people they work for.”
LBWR has an alumni of more than 300, with 25 enlisted in this year’s program.
Its volunteers support more than 190 organisations, and many past and present members continue to deliver at local level.
AFTER completing the LBWR course in 2015, Daylesford graphic designer Morgan Williams asked himself a simple question: “what can I contribute to our community (and) what solutions are out there for the problems our world faces?”.
Mr Williams currently facilitates and participates in ‘council circle’ sessions to help groups explore issues, build trust and improve communication.
“I see a real value to the community (in volunteering),” he said.
“Probably my biggest role has been with the local 360 Degrees arts group in Daylesford (as a public officer and treasurer), which was about 12 or 13 years ago.
“The main reason we did that (set up the group) was to get an arts officer, because we didn’t have one in the shire and to promote arts generally.
”We achieved our goal – we got an arts officer who now applies for grants and things like that.
“It’s very fulfilling when you think about something good that you’ve done that may not have happened otherwise.”
FULFILLMENT is found in many ways, and another graduate of last year’s program, Gillian Armstrong, gets hers through volunteer work at the Elaine Country Fire Authority branch – a role she says she is “honoured” uptake.
“My husband is the second lieutenant now and (I’m) fourth lieutenant and treasurer-secretary,” she said.
“I’m really quite honoured to do it, because it is a small community and we struggle sometimes to get people to do things.
“A lot of it comes from how we were raised from as children in communities back in the day. Neighbours would help neighbours and our parents helped everyone around – it’s been instilled in us that wherever you can give back to the community, we’re happy to do it.”
Ms Armstrong also dedicates much of her time to helping raise funds for the Trek for Education charity, which supplies disadvantaged children with educational supplies in areas such as Papua New Guinea.
THE achievements of Ballarat volunteers, regardless of whether they are big or small or who they affect, are of the utmost importance and can never be taken for granted.
Nicole Foy has an extensive history in volunteering with local indigenous and sporting groups and continues to find new ways to contribute to the community.
Ms Foy is Koorie Cultural Adviser for the LOOKOUT Centre and is also a 2016 Multi-Cultural Ambassador for Ballarat.
While an active member in the Koorie community, she still has many sporting commitments and says it is important to keep trying new aspect of volunteering.
“I was one of those people who just turned up to things (and took volunteering for granted),” she said.
“You volunteer and people don’t realise that what you are doing is actually volunteering.
“Someone’s got to do it and that’s the philosophy.
“Community doesn’t just pop up.”