National Volunteer Week delivers waves of gratitude to community vollies

This week is National Volunteer Week, and Volunteering Australia is calling on all Australians to 'wave their appreciation' for volunteers by sharing a photo of themselves waving their hand of thanks using the hashtag #waveforvolunteers.

Volunteers - including St John Ambulance, State Emergency Service, Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Bushfire Brigades - were at Surfers Point over the weekend where they posed for their own #waveforvolunteers photo.

St John WA Community Paramedic Dane Hendry said volunteers had been challenged by social distancing measures, which impacted their ability to train, meet and socialise.

Local legends: Remember to thank a volunteer this week for all they do in our community. Photo: Wallcliffe Volunteer Fire Brigade

Local legends: Remember to thank a volunteer this week for all they do in our community. Photo: Wallcliffe Volunteer Fire Brigade

"They have risen to that change, forging a strong, resilient and cohesive team to ensure that their community has the same 24/7 access to high quality volunteer ambulance services whenever they are needed," Mr Hendry told the Mail.

"They have worked hard to ensure that they are up-to-date with all requirements for increased hygiene, cleaning and PPE regimes to continue with the provision of world-class ambulance responses in these unusual and trying times."

Department of Fire and Emergency Services District Officer Adrian Yates said online meetings had been a key measure in maintaining volunteer connections.

"Local volunteers have made extensive use of online meetings to ensure members maintain their connections and continue training," Mr Yates said.

"Mental health has been an important consideration, with leadership teams from all agencies maintaining contact and providing support for members.

"Volunteers have worked hard to ensure agencies can respond to emergency incidents in a safe, efficient way."

CEO of Volunteering Australia Adrienne Picone said the challenging year had shone a spotlight on the power of the unpaid workforce.

"With such need, we are working hard to promote safe and effective volunteer working conditions and encourage Volunteer Involving Organisations to do the same," she said.

"While face-to-face volunteering is put on hold there are still other ways that people can donate their time. Some Volunteering Involving Organisations are currently seeking volunteers with roles such as community support, telephone volunteers, delivery drivers and digital mentors. It's important for people to remember that once COVID-19 restrictions lift, most volunteering programs will resume as normal and will be actively re-engaging with their volunteers and possibly seeking new volunteers."

St John Head of Country Ambulance Operations Justin Fonte said one of the organisation's strengths was its ability to harness the combination of career staff and volunteers, which together ensured West Australians had access to leading ambulance and first aid services across metropolitan Perth and regional WA.

"Our regional volunteers are a key part of the State's country ambulance service, helping St John attend to 631,469 patients across the state last year," Mr Fonte said.

"Up to 80 percent of our workforce is made up of volunteers, who are responsible for a substantial component of our regional services. The contribution of skills, care and time volunteers make to St John and their communities each and every year is priceless.

"I would like to add how incredibly proud of the ongoing dedication and high level of care our volunteers have maintained during COVID-19 pandemic. Their commitment has not wavered once.

"I would also like to say a big thank you to all the families of our volunteers who support their loved ones and sacrifice family time for the benefit of the community."

Our volunteers feel passionately about the quality and reliability of our ambulance service, which feeds the volunteer group and leads them to build on past successes to continue to grow their groups.

Dane Hendry, St John WA

St John volunteers respond from 164 regional and remote centres across WA. Some centres are staffed by a mix of volunteers and career paramedics and others are serviced wholly by volunteers.

Mr Fonte said the diversity in age and gender showed volunteering was something that appealed to a wide range of people.

"National Volunteer Week is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate, not only our incredible St John volunteers, but all those people who volunteer their time in the WA community."

Mr Yates said local government funding and community support had helped volunteer programs through the COVID-19 crisis.

"I believe the strong community spirit in the region is reflected in the extensive support for volunteers, and contribution of volunteers back to our community.

"As we emerge from restrictions, emergency services will begin recruiting new members. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the variety of skills and experience that contribute to VFRS, SES, BFB and VMR services. Agencies will focus on creative and unique ways to incorporate new volunteers' skills and experience to build a stronger service for our community."

Mr Hendry said it was no surprise people in the South West were some of the State's most respected volunteers - boasting 671 volunteer personnel in the South West alone.

"Our volunteers feel passionately about the quality and reliability of our ambulance service, which feeds the volunteer group and leads them to build on past successes to continue to grow their groups.

"We welcome any interested potential volunteers to contact us and experience this great team."

Interested volunteers are invited to contact Augusta@stjohnwa.com.au and MargaretRiver@stjohnwa.com.au to find out more.