As we turn the calendar over to a new year, it’s time to take stock of what we want to achieve in the foreseeable future. Most of us have the same resolutions – get fitter, lose weight, take on a new hobby, make new friends. Topping the must-do list is ‘helping others’.
According to the World Giving Index 2011, which is measured by someone donating money, volunteering time to an organisation and helping someone they didn’t know who needed help, Australia is ranked in the top three giving nations.
The 2010 Australian Bureau of Statistics shows more than 35 per cent of the adult population volunteers and this number is growing. As Australia’s peak body representing more than six million volunteers, Volunteering Australia says the largest demographic of volunteers is those who are 45 to 54 years of age and most often volunteer in sport and physical recreation, education and training, community, welfare and religious groups. The organisation’s National Survey of Volunteering Issues 2011 indicates the main reason people volunteer is because of the difference it makes to the community and the sense of purpose their volunteering gives them.
Social entrepreneur, environmental campaigner and 2010 New South Wales Australian of the Year, Jon Dee along with long-time-friend and Australian tennis champion Pat Cash are two people who lead the pack when it comes to making a difference. As the founders of the hugely successful Planet Ark initiative, which for more than 20 years has worked with businesses and people to reduce their impact on the planet, the duo have taken on a new opportunity which enables people to fulfil their quest to help others. With former executive director of the National Trust of Australia Tina Jackson, they have harnessed their knowledge and reputations to gather other high profile celebrities including actress and singer Olivia Newton-John, television personality Sandra Sully, renowned sailor Jessica Watson and actor Michael Caton, to join their latest social awareness venture Do Something Near You. This not-for-profit organisation brings together the resources of the business community and the goodwill of the Australian public to create and promote positive social and environmental change and rather than talk about problems, seeks to ‘do something’ by building alliances.
“We are a facility – the aim of Do Something is to help people find a project they are interested in,” Jon explains. “It’s been an incredibly hard project to do but now we are getting thousands of people on board.”
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give – Winston Churchill
The Do Something team contacts community groups, service organisations, charities and sporting clubs throughout Australia to encourage them to list the projects they need volunteers for. The system is set up so that users type in a post code to find volunteering opportunities in their local area. “If you are interested in emergency services, it will bring up organisations such as the State Emergency Services and Rural Fire Services,” Jon says. “If you want to get involved in tree plantings, you will find that too. “There are so many things people can do and we have managed to break it down to 16000 post codes throughout Australia. “That’s a lot!”
Finding volunteer opportunities is one part of Do Something. The other is building awareness campaigns on social issues.
“One of the things Pat and I are very passionate about is food,” says Jon. “We have noticed that Meals on Wheels is an organisation struggling to get volunteers and resources and we want to help them as much as we can. “We know people don’t want to live out their days in an aged care facility, they want to remain in their homes, but with an ageing population it is absolutely vital that services such as Meals on Wheels are properly resourced in terms of volunteers, kitchens, food preparation equipment, etc. “I believe we can judge and define Australia as a country by how we treat people at the latter stage of their life. “If we can’t help organisations such as Meals on Wheels properly then we have a real problem on our hands.”
Other campaigns Do Something has promoted is the recent National Op Shop Week.
“We want to raise awareness of how people can volunteer at the local op shop as well as how they can donate clothing and products which helps those charities do the great work they do. “Did you know that 62 per cent of women have clothing they have not worn, and some of that still has the tags on it. “We want that clothing taken down to the local op shop.
“People who are in their 50s and beyond definitely have the ethos of helping others and they are returning to it.” – Jon Dee
“I’ve done hundreds of speeches around Australia and what I constantly find is that people want to give back more
and get back to the traditional values of giving. “I think we had lost touch with that over the past 20 years,” Jon says. “People who are in their 50s and beyond definitely have the ethos of helping others and they are returning to it. “When we reach this age, we are starting to realise we have resources behind us and we want to make a difference,” Jon explains. “A lot of people have been working really hard for decades and they now find they are free of that and they have the time to make a difference. “The skills they have learnt in their careers are invaluable. “One of the things we are serious about at Do Something is to tap into the over 50 network of people. “They are a new type of volunteer.
“I put a call out to people who have spare time to help local community groups in their area. “We have thousands listed but we want to make sure we have absolutely every community group on our site so we are also looking for people to liaise with their community groups and make sure they are listed on Do Something Near You. That will give people a real choice of ways they can help.”
For more information on how you can volunteer, or if you have a program which needs volunteers, go to the Do Something website at www.dosomething.net.au.
Volunteering Australia has the mission to lead, strengthen, promote and celebrate volunteering in Australia. Find out more at www.volunteeringaustralia.org