It’s National Volunteering Week.
There are about six million volunteers in Australia alone. That doesn’t mean that our nation has plenty of people with lots of spare time. After all, it has been said that those who volunteer don’t necessarily have the time for it, they have the heart for it.
While almost every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteers – due to the lay ministry via which most people have callings and assignments – we thought we would discover some of the ways our church members were volunteering in the wider community.
Kylie Barnes, of the Morialta Ward, was living in the U.S. and attended the General Women’s session of Conference when leaders urged members to support refugees in their communities with the launch of the ‘I Was a Stranger’ initiative.
“I looked into volunteering in Sacramento with the Syrian refugees but wasn’t able to establish an opportunity there,” said Kylie. “When we returned to Adelaide I looked up various organisations that work with refugee groups, and found the Australian Refugee Association.
“After some induction workshops, and the usual background checks, I now support a Cultural Support Officer who runs a ‘Mums and Children’ group for Burmese Chin women at Salisbury Downs Primary School.
“I am enjoying this particular opportunity as it is a regular weekly commitment and I am establishing genuine relationships with the families. The Burmese Chin are a shy people by nature, and to get to know them better and build a relationship, it needed to be ongoing. I love all sorts of volunteering efforts, and each can offer benefits and rewards to both the volunteer and those we are helping.”
This is a three-hour commitment, and has involved training and induction and cultural awareness aspects for the busy mother of four. The group meets each Wednesday but an additional weekend outing to Cleland Wildlife Park was a highlight, says Kylie.
Kylie with some of the refugee children during their visit to Cleland Wildlife Park
“The kids were so excited to see all the different Australian animals. They all wanted to see the koalas first and were excited to be able to pat them. Next on their must-see list…dingos! That’s where the children all howled in imitation enthusiastically. We also had a lot of fun teaching them how to feed the kangaroos.
“Then we enjoyed a shared picnic of delicious Burmese dishes – and everyone had fun laughing at my inability to handle the ‘mild’ spices!”
Not surprisingly, Kylie says volunteering is ‘incredibly rewarding’.
“Not only are you helping others, but in turn we grow as individuals when we serve them. I was particularly drawn to serving refugees because … I have a tiny inkling of what it is like to live in a foreign country and start a new life.
“I feel strongly that as we reach out and welcome others and help them adjust to their new lives here – which is vastly different from the lives they left behind – we can have stronger, more integrated communities.
“Getting to know the women and children in our support group has helped me to better understand the refugee crisis and what these people go through. Being welcomed into our neighbourhoods makes the process a little easier.”
Additionally, Kylie volunteers with her husband Jared at the ‘Do Unto Others’ dinner program in the Adelaide CBD which is run by the Salvos. DUO offers a nutritious meal, dessert and friendly hospitality to those doing it tough – the homeless and other vulnerable people. Firle Ward members Jack and Jess Prebble also have lent a hand with DUO service.
“My wife Jess and have helped out with the DUO dinner twice now, and it has been the most amazing experience for both of us,” shared Jack. “It is, in pure simplicity, what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about: lifting … hearts, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. It was humbling to work alongside so many people from other faiths who gave of their time to help those who were having a hard time.
“And it was fun! It was uplifting – a really great date night idea.”
(Front, L-R) Firle ward young women Nyabuay Tongyik and Rebecca Heaven joined Jack and Jess Prebble and (at rear) young people of other faiths in preparing and serving food at the DUO dinner
Golden Grove young adult Iris Mahoney got involved with Modbury Meals on Wheels after a prompting to do more work in the community. “I love volunteering (but) I never would have thought of it by myself,” Iris explained. “I enjoy getting to meet the other amazing volunteers who are all really friendly, and getting to meet the people who receive the home-delivered meals.”
On Wednesdays, Iris spends about four hours organising, heating and boxing up the food, and is being trained to be the kitchen supervisor. On Fridays, she helps with delivery. It is mostly elderly or infirm people who need ‘a bit of support’ with meals, and brightening their day with a quick cheerful visit is the best part for Iris.
“I love making their days (better). And if I make them smile it makes my day, not just theirs,” says Iris who visits and delivers meals (in a team of 2-3 people) to upwards of 40 people in a fortnight. “Volunteering is fun – I would recommend it to everyone.”
The Mormon Helping Hands program of the church is another way that many Latter-day Saints serve and assist in communities around the world, especially in times of disaster and emergency. Happy Valley Ward young adult Alicia Buring was among the locals involved in the MHH flood clean-up work around Adelaide a few months ago. Alicia, who spent her teenage years volunteering with the Country Fire Service (picture below right), says there is no better way to feel and share the love of Christ.
“Growing up as a member of the church I was always taught to give service to others, to love our neighbours just as Christ did,” she said. “Taking part in the helping hands service projects, clearing mud and debris for people whose homes had been inundated with floodwaters, was a great opportunity for that.”
“I remembered when Fiji was struck with the devastating cyclone in February 2016 (Alicia, pictured at left with Merridy Granger, served as a missionary there) and how the church’s Mormon Helping Hands volunteers played a big part in helping to rebuild some communities, and how successful that was.
“I enjoy volunteering, and joining service projects that have helped me to have a ‘want to help’ attitude, and to see other people’s happiness because of it. I definitely will keep volunteering in different ways in the future – to help our community, our neighbours and loved ones.”
Each of those featured today is inspirational in attitude and efforts. If you have a regular volunteering role that enriches your life and the lives of others, we would love to hear about it. Add your comments and stories below.
If you are interested in volunteering within the community, there are numerous opportunities. Here is a call for volunteers needed by the Australian Refugee Association: Women volunteers wanted for cultural support groups in Salisbury – the ARA has commenced two cultural support groups to support mothers from refugee backgrounds around raising children and family life. Two programs are provided as outlined below, facilitated by ARA staff and bi-cultural workers. We are seeking female volunteers who can help look after children during sessions, provide friendship, support and English language conversation. Women of all ages are welcome, and you are welcome to bring your own preschool-aged children to these sessions if you wish. Afghan Women Thursdays: 10.00 am – 12 noon, Salisbury Primary School; Burmese (Chin) Women Wednesdays: 12 noon – 2.00 pm, Salisbury Downs Primary School. Call Deborah on (08) 8354 2951 for more information.