You want to do some volunteering? Just move to a small town of about two thousand people and say hello to a few of them!
That is just about what happened to my wife Jacqui and I when we left Melbourne and moved our few belongings to Yarram, about two hundred kilometres to the south east.
We had originally intended to use the town as a base for travels further afield and we made our abode in a small house on the edge of a caravan park, with our caravan parked alongside, ready for whatever adventure might suggest itself in the future.
We knew no one in the town, except one shop owner we had spoken to several times when passing through the place on our way to somewhere else, so we thought, ‘small town, new people, (us), not considered locals for maybe forty years, it will most likely be another four years before we even know the name of the local fish and chip shop owner!
Who is going to miss us, or want to know what we’re doing under those circumstances?
It might be a bit lonely here for a while… we thought!
Of course, we were still thinking as if we were living in Melbourne, where it was unusual to know the name of your neighbour, let alone anyone else. (Unless you fell out with any of them and ended up in court – then you became aware of not only their name, but everything else about them!)
Luckily, we were fortunate enough not to have anything like that happen to us, but it does explain our point of view in those early days at Yarram.
Our first big surprise came only a few days after our arrival, almost before we had had time to settle in. The owner of the caravan park knocked on our door one afternoon and asked if I would like to go to the local Lions Club with him, which was meeting that evening.
As much out of politeness as anything, I said I would be delighted, and by the time I came home again, I had been enrolled as a member and I had twenty three instant friends, which enlarged to forty six on the first project I was involved with, where all the wives turned up as well.
Luckily, I had been told this would happen so I took Jacqui along as well, which resulted in a whole batch of friends for her too.
From that fateful first involvement everything snowballed, as much as anything because Lions Club members, (and members of all the other ‘service’ clubs, like Rotary, etc.), tend to be community minded people anyway, and so most of them were volunteers for other organisations around the town as well, all of whom were eager to get more volunteers.
Before we knew it, Jacqui and I were delivering ‘Meals on Wheels’, visiting dementia patients at the local nursing home, driving the community bus taking elderly ladies to visit their relatives in the next town and selling raffle tickets for various groups around the town.
The next level came when I was invited on to the board of the local hospital, and the kindergarten, followed by my crowning achievement, when I was asked if I would stand for election as the local Shire Councillor.
Now I know this is not strictly speaking a volunteer position, because I was paid expenses to do it, which was by no means a liveable wage, but I really did look on it as voluntary, and a means of putting something back into the community in return for the way we had been accepted and involved by our neighbors.
It’s worth noting here that a got to know a lot of other people during those years I was a Councilor, many of whom I am still in touch with to this day.
This all happened twenty years ago, and we are still living in Yarram, (in a proper house now!), accepted by everyone as locals, and despite getting a little ancient, we still do our bit here and there to help out.
In fact, there are very few small towns like Yarram which could exist without the input from volunteers – at least ten percent of the people here do this work and I’m sure we are in no way unique.
Of course, Covid did its level best to muck things up for everyone, but once we got over the shock of it happening at all, “volunteering” became even more important, keeping an eye out for older people living on their own, or who were already suffering some other sort of chronic illness. It only takes an ‘outside attack’ like this to pop up, and you suddenly find the whole town will pull together to fight it, whatever it is!
In closing, I’d have to say being a volunteer can be a very satisfying experience too, there’s nothing quite like doing something for others to give yourself a warm feeling deep inside.
So, if the opportunity presents itself, grab it and have a go, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it and be glad you did it!
© 2023 Brian Lee