When you do a selfless deed or an act of good your body releases endorphins. This is why volunteering makes us happy! *
You can smell them half way across the playground, the homemade ANZAC biscuits, or is it the apple muffins, or the sausage rolls? Whichever, I always like to linger a moment at the canteen to check out what the kids will be enjoying at lunch and recess.
Last Friday when I dropped by, the seemingly unflappable Sally was in a bit of tizz; all three of her volunteers for that day were at the doctors with sick kids. She had close to 120 lunch orders to prepare, as well as half a dozen different homemade snacks for recess, and was a little concerned about how she was going to manage.
Fortunately, two volunteering stalwarts, Nikki and Emma, stepped in at no notice and saved the day, and the lamb moneybags, tacos and cheese toasties were all duly delivered.
Now, this got me thinking: what percentage of the population do you reckon volunteer on a regular basis? 10 per cent? 15? 20 even? Well, according the Australian Bureau of Statistics it’s around 36% and, interestingly, the biggest cohort of volunteers – around 55% – is couples with dependent children aged 5 – 17. That’s us. The most commonly cited reason for why people volunteer is because it increases their sense of community belonging. So how does this all relate to Kew Primary School I wondered? Do half of us volunteer? And what is our motivation if we do?
‘I like to know what’s going on around school,’ Nikki tells me, ‘and I like to keep my finger on the pulse. I volunteered to help with the athletics carnival and I got to talk to lots of staff – Barry and Robin and Xavier and Michelle – and it was very enlightening! Plus, I’m a control freak. You see things that need improvement and often there aren’t the resources to fix it and you can’t always expect people who are really busy to pick it up.’
‘Volunteering in class means I get to know my kid’s teacher really well,’ she says, ‘and my children love seeing me there. You get to know the other kids too which means they feel more comfortable about approaching you, or asking you for help outside the classroom.’
Emma likes to know what her kids are doing during the day, too, especially, she says, as it’s really hard to get any information out of them. ‘But I came from overseas,’ she adds, ‘and I didn’t know anyone. I needed to meet as many people as I could and if I hadn’t volunteered I think I would have stayed at home and got lonely and depressed. I don’t have to work and I’ve got the time and means to volunteer and a lot of people don’t have that luxury. Plus…well…I’m just really nosy.’
The head honcho of volunteers in any school is generally the president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), in our case the indefatigable George. The PTA organises a range of events throughout the year aimed at raising money or fostering a sense of community and, in most cases, both.
‘I’m a very impatient person,’ George tells me. ‘I see a problem and I want to fix it. I feel obligated to help. But there are many, many people in our school who volunteer regularly and quietly – whether it’s reading in class, going on excursions, walking the kids to swimming – and, to be honest, the place would fall in a heap without them. These people make a really big difference.’
I asked George why some people who are interested in volunteering might be reluctant to put their hand up; I know, for example, people sometimes feel they don’t have the particular skills, or that they can’t make a whole-term commitment.
‘Not everyone wants to be on school council,’ George says, ‘or is suitable for it, but there are dozens of ways that people can help for say, 45 minutes a week, or with a one-off contribution to an event. Sometimes parents can be a bit nervous about volunteering, but they don’t need to be; it’s a good way to become involved in your school and I think it’s a fantastic example to our kids.’
So who knows whether 55% of us volunteer – it doesn’t actually matter – and people clearly get involved for all sorts of reasons. We do know that many people regularly give up their time to help support our school community in many different ways, and that the day to day experience of our kids is all the better because of it. As George says: ‘If there are no volunteers, it doesn’t happen.’
So, a big thank-you to everyone who has volunteered this year; to the quiet contributors and the nosy, impatient, control freaks!
Thanks for listening,
Volunteers are involved with all of the following at KPS:
Canteen, excursions and incursions, classroom reading, swimming, class reps., book club, uniform shop, school banking, fruit duty, working bees, school council, mothers’ day, fathers’ day, peppercorn barbeque, chess club, bush dance, concerts and performances, sporting activities, and more…
If you would like to volunteer please contact:
Your class teacher
George (PTA) firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally (Canteen) 0431 213289
School office 9853 8325
*One million acts of kindness: www.1millionacts.com.au