FOR Aldona Kmiec, volunteering is in her family's blood.
"I grew up in a very busy house where everyone was always doing a lot of things in the community," she said.
Polish-born Ms Kmiec moved to Ballarat in 2010 and hasn't stopped putting her hand up since.
A photographer by trade, she has volunteered for the RSPCA taking pictures of dogs and cats up for adoption, has been on the Craft Council of Ballarat, has contributed photographs and videos to radio program ABC Open, was on the Lead On Ballarat committee before it folded last December and is heavily involved in the local and statewide Polish communities.
She is also an integral part of the Foto Biennale and arts hub Ballarat Arts Alive and recently judged original fashions for the Regional Design Awards.
Ms Kmiec is both the Leadership Ballarat Western Region and City of Ballarat cultural diversity adviser, as well as the council's multicultural ambassador.
In her spare time, she has renovated a house and set up a pop-up photography shop in Sturt Street called Big Space.
When asked why she does so much for the community, Ms Kmiec said it was simple.
"I get to talk to people. I get to know what people are doing in this part of the world.
"I learn all the time through communicating with people through words and images - and I get to work on my Australian accent!"
Cassie Lindsey works with young people both for a living and in her spare time.
As the City of Ballarat's youth strategy and development officer, Ms Lindsey works on leadership and other youth related programs.
However, she also acts an informal mentor to many of the young people she comes across in her job.
"I am very fortunate to be given the opportunities at council to work with a broad cross section of young people from our community," Ms Lindsey said.
"I find my role is similar to a sport's coach where you are someone who provides them with support, encouragement and skill development in areas of leadership and community involvement.
"This, at times, means that some young people would benefit from more than just coaching and support in a team environment but also one-on-one.
"I find that they enjoy the link between different generations, having another significant adult to call on when needed and to provide them with suggestions and ideas on how to navigate the complexes of being a young adult in Ballarat."
"These young people give me so much in return for their energy, optimism, resilience and motivation always inspires me.
"Over the 13 years, I have been working with young people I continue to be amazed by our young people and how many are continuing to give back to our community mostly unseen. I am also seeing some from years ago now popping up in various leadership roles and hopefully the extra time and energy we give them has helped them navigate their way to fulfilment."
Rick Stephens was faced with a dilemma.
A self-employed fencing contractor, he wanted to do some volunteering that also worked around his young family.
Then about 18 months ago, he drove past the Soup Bus in action at the Civic Hall.
"I thought it would be good to get involved with something like that," Mr Stephens said.
"At that stage, I was looking for something to get involved with the community but after my little kids were in bed and it fitted the bill beautifully."
Already having a heavy vehicle licence, he just needed to get his Working With Children and police checks and he started driving the bus once every six weeks while other volunteers heated up the donated and already prepared food.
"I interact with the clients and make sure it's all going smoothly."
Mr Stephens said he found his volunteer work not only manageable but also highly rewarding.
"I feel like I'm putting something back. I would struggle to think of a time when I haven't had an interesting conversation with someone.
"There's always a surprise every shift. You get chatting to the same people over and over again, and suddenly they'll open up and share something that they are happy to talk about.
"It's mostly about listening. It's very elemental."
Mr Stephens said there were no questions asked and no judgements given at the Soup Bus.
"Whatever is there is up for grabs. Someone might drive their family up in a car but if it saves them $15 on their already over-stretched budget then that's fine. There is no questioning of it."
Solicitor Orry Pilven firmly believes the legal industry has an obligation to give back to its community.
"It's just ethical for us to do pro bono work," he said.
Mr Pilven specialises in civil law at Ballarat legal firm Saines Lucas but also gives free legal aid at the Central Highlands Community Legal Centre in Dawson Street.
It continues the volunteering work he began while studying at La Trobe University with the Melbourne Community Legal Centre.
"I've always done a lot around social justice."
Mr Pilven volunteers three hours once every six weeks and is also on the centre's committee of management.
He is also on the Ballarat and District Law Association Committee, helping organise networking events.
"I feel like I'm giving a little bit back. I enjoy helping people.
"It's also rewarding because I'm working in areas I wouldn't normally be exposed to."
All four volunteers are also graduates of the Leadership Ballarat and Western Region program, which Mr Stephens described as a "close examination of your own community".
"I loved it. For me, having my own business, any personal development was difficult to pull off," he said.
"I met all sorts of people and it was a fantastic group."
Mr Pilven agreed. "It's a great program and there are great friendships you make".
* For more information about the LBWR program, contact Sofia Fiusco at email@example.com.
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