May 15-21 marks National Volunteer Week, but how much do you know about why young South Aussies volunteer?
Helping others, getting active, socialising and resume-boosting are all great reasons to volunteer.
We know the past few years have been hectic – and that’s putting it mildly – which shows in the decline among people of all ages volunteering across Australia.
But it has been younger volunteers aged 18 to 34 who have been among the least likely to stop volunteering, according to a 2022 study by Volunteering Australia.
Hamilton Calder, CEO of Volunteering SA&NT, says the silver lining of COVID was that it allowed the sector to discuss the changing needs of volunteers.
Young volunteers want flexibility
Providing opportunities for school groups, students, families and businesses to get involved in new, flexible ways with less barriers is absolutely the future of volunteering, according to Hamilton.
“Somebody might just want to go and help in their local community and has some time now or might in a few months but then you won’t see them again and that’s driven by a younger demographic,” he says.
Alycia Millar, 22, volunteered at SA’s Women’s Legal Service for eight months last year while studying law.
“It was one three-hour shift per week which was really good. I think if it was any more than that it would have been really hard to do it for as long as I did,” Alycia says.
“I wanted to stay because I loved it there, but I needed to take on more hours at work and it was going to be too hard to continue volunteering which I think unfortunately is the case for a lot of people.”
Alycia’s not alone in this, with work and family commitments being the top reason for not volunteering, according to Volunteering Australia’s 2022 volunteer perspective study.
Did you know? There are close to 1 million people in South Australia who volunteer, generating around $5 billion in value to the economy annually.
During her time at the Women’s Legal Service, Alycia answered phone calls, took client notes and assessed if people were eligible for legal services or referred them to appropriate support, like financial or counselling.
“I loved it, I think mainly it was really inspiring to work somewhere where people were motivated by other things other than just payday,” she says.
“It is really hard to get direct experience with clients, even in paid roles which is such a benefit of doing something like this.
“I work in a firm and it will take years until I can actually speak with a client one-on-one, but I was able to do that by volunteering.”
It’s as much about connection as it is about change
For some young volunteers, the change that the volunteering work helps create is everything.
That’s the case for Nicolas Emili, 20, who has dedicated hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to the Edmund Rice programs, walking alongside children, young people and their families who have experienced disadvantage and/or trauma.
“I signed up for another camp after my first because of the growth I saw in one of the participants on our program. It made me feel fantastic because I knew I had something to do with that growth,” Nicolas says.
“From camp to camp, I get to see the growth of the kids – the teens – on our programs as a result of the positive seeds we have planted.”
For Nicolas, it is as much about connection and his own personal growth as it is about helping.
“I have lived an incredibly privileged life and if there’s anything I can do to help a young person thrive by focusing and building upon their strengths, then that’s what I have to do,” he says.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.
“This is one of my favourite quotes. For so many people facing adversities, especially kids, it’s amazing to see what a positive role model can do for them.
“As a role model and volunteer, you’re not there to tell them who to be, but to create a positive environment in which their true authentic self can shine. That’s why volunteering is so important. If we can get more people to be their true authentic self, then the world will be a better place.”
It’s feel-good work
Laura Noto, 29, has been participating in the Kickstart for Kids School Breakfast Program for a year and a half, volunteering once every three weeks.
“There are instances when I have rescheduled dates with the school or let them know I’m unable to attend due to work, so I’ve found it really easy to balance,” Laura says.
The school breakfast program involves preparing and serving breakfast – like toast, fruit, eggs and pancakes – to at least 50 primary school aged students each morning.
“It’s funny thinking about how some people can’t start their day without a cup of coffee so you can imagine how a school full of kids would feel without breakfast,” Laura says.
“I really look forward to starting my morning volunteering because I love seeing how happy the kids are when they see us.
“I think as a young person, I often feel like there’s never enough hours in the day so for me, a huge benefit to volunteering is making the time for it and building the good habit to do something beneficial for someone else, for the wider community.”
Celebrating young volunteers
National Volunteer Week, which runs from May 15-21, recognises the crucial work millions of volunteers contribute to the community, and this year the theme is The Change Makers.
In SA, some of the events held to celebrate the week include the SA Volunteering Conference and the South Australian Volunteer Awards, hosted by the Government of South Australia.
This year the awards include the inaugural The Young Volunteer Award, showcasing the incredible change-making contributions of youth who give back.
“I definitely think [the recognition] is important because for volunteers sometimes the work goes unnoticed,” Alycia says.
SA Volunteer Awards
Samuel Weavers was announced as the recipient of the Young Volunteer Award, which was presented in partnership with Volunteering SA&NT and the Youth Affairs Council of SA (YACSA).
Samuel, who is under 18 years old, started Sam’s Popcorn at just 10. When his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to develop Kids for Kids, an innovative fundraising program designed to help kids in a similar situation as him. The program would assist schools, businesses, sporting clubs, networking groups, rotary clubs and other groups in selling Sam’s Popcorn Pails. The profits went toward Childhood Cancer Association, and he’s raised $25,000 for the organisation so far. Sam also volunteers to present to classes, schools, businesses and networking groups to raise awareness about the Childhood Cancer Association.
You can read more about the awards and the other recipients here.
For volunteering opportunities available across the Department of Human Services (DHS), visit Volunteer with DHS.