By Dr Theresa Ruig, Vision Australia volunteer partnerships director
It takes a person with a special kind of soul to give their time freely to better the lives of those around them.
At Vision Australia, we are lucky enough to have thousands of these precious people volunteering for us and changing the lives of our blind and low vision community every single day.
This week marks National Volunteer Week and allows us a chance to give back to our volunteers whose contributions make a world of difference to our community.
Our volunteers in the last year donated more than one million hours of their own time to give back and we could not be more thankful. The time, skills and expertise they generously give helps us to provide the vital services we do to those who are blind or have low vision.
Without this generosity we could not do the important work we do and as a not-for-profit organisation, we rely on volunteer support. It helps us to manage costs and provide a broader range of services to the tens of thousands of people we support across Australia.
Our volunteers are from a wide age range and perform more than 100 different roles at Vision Australia across the country.
They facilitate our Quality Living and Peer Support Groups, support our administration staff, drive our clients to appointments, help our fundraising efforts and boost community awareness.
These are just some of the things our volunteers get involved in and everything they do makes a difference.
Last year one of our new volunteers, having recently completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts decided to make learning toys, such as finger puppets, for our paediatric occupational therapists to use in their resource kits.
Another volunteer, who is a PhD student researching the challenges students who are blind or have low vision can encounter when studying the STEM subjects, is a learning support volunteer, who is co-facilitating a new Code Jumper group in Western Australia.
We have volunteers who volunteer with us once a year at events such as Carols by Candlelight, some who volunteer on a more regular basis: weekly, fortnightly or monthly and those who volunteer for ongoing, longer term commitments such as Puppy Carers.
Our Puppy Carers raise our Seeing Eye Dog pups in training for sometimes more than a year. They play an integral part in the pup’s journey in becoming a Seeing Eye Dog that will change the life of a blind or low vision person.
COVID-19 lockdowns saw a record-breaking amount of interest in seeing eye dog volunteer trainers and worked wonders for us in recruiting new eager people. Many cherished the special time they had to give back with some finding their passion and staying on as a volunteer long-term.
But the benefits are not a one-way street. Volunteers often find the help they can give as highly rewarding as the recipients themselves. Many find passion and purpose from the programmes and make lifelong friends.
Volunteering with Vision Australia also helps many of our younger team members to pick up vital work skills, experience and opportunities that they may not get anywhere else. Whether it be helping to coordinate events, working on our radio station networks or running new and innovative fundraisers.
What we tell our volunteers is “you make it possible.” It’s something that we truly mean, without them Vision Australia wouldn’t be able to provide people who are blind or have low vision with the support they deserve.