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Volunteers: people who change lives and how w. . .

Volunteers: people who change lives and how we need to map their work

By John Kelly.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 18 May 2012.

It’s Volunteering Week across Australia and we celebrate the work of millions of Australians who do their bit to improve the lives of others. But VCOSS is also highlighting the role of ‘broker’ organisations that can match volunteers with the organisations that need their support, and – with a coalition of community and volunteering organisations – calling on the State Government to map the role of volunteers in Victoria so we know our needs in future.

Chris Tsivoglou got sick of seeing some local kids throwing rocks at cars in Mildura one day about 20 years ago and went and talked to their dad, to be told: ‘they’re bored, there’s nothing for them to do here’. So Chris invited them to go and play soccer with his kids and from there the Mildura United Soccer Club was born and has become a transformative influence in the community. Today the majority of the club’s 150-plus players are from the local Aboriginal community – with three generations of local Aboriginal people involved in the club – and recruits also from migrant and refugee families in the area.

But it is struggling financially to survive. Each week club volunteers drive over 600 kilometres to pick up club members and take them home again and the club has to spend $13,000 per year just to keep a bus on the road. It also pays for the registrations of members who cannot afford it, provides them with uniforms, makes sure they get a good meal at training and on game day and does what it can to support them generally. All up, that’s about $18,000 a year and the club is struggling to find the money and the best way to deal with its more complex demands.

This is where skilled volunteers come in. Leadership Victoria has been working with Chris’ team to connect them with volunteers who can help ensure Mildura United’s ongoing viability. Together they are developing a business plan, formalising relationships with other organisations and writing funding submissions. One funding option they are working towards is with the Football Federation of Australia which has recently released an Indigenous strategy, Football Dreaming. Mildura United also wants to be able to hire a paid manager and youth worker to use the club as a community hub to give young people access to health services and education opportunities. In Mildura’s indigenous community there are high rates of teen pregnancy, joblessness and metal health problems and the club can be a safe place that people come to for advice and help.

As VCOSS Sector Development Manager Marina Henley notes, organisations like VCOSS through its Clearinghouse, as well as Volunteering Victoria, PilchConnect, Leadership Victoria, goodcompany and ProBono Australia are playing increasingly important roles in supporting community work, acting as brokers between skilled volunteers and organisations that need specialist support, whether it’s in accounting, marketing, training, governance or many other areas.

The next step is to properly measure the need for those services. Volunteering Victoria tells us that volunteers across Australia give over 600 million hours of their time to the community, valued at around $15 billion every year. But we don’t have a clear picture of that contribution in Victoria – where 1.5 million adults are actively engaged in unpaid community work. Without that, it is difficult to plan for the future.

A coalition of community and volunteering organisations including VCOSS have identified a significant gap in measuring the full extent of the economic and social contribution of volunteering in Victoria and warn that without this knowledge it is increasingly difficult to plan for the future of our fast-growing and aging population.

Further reading: ProBono on Volunteers Week

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