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Volunteering in a Changing Landscape

Volunteering is a rich and essential ingredient to the disability sector, writes Fred Brumhead, CEO of disability service provider Interchange Outer East.

In recent times, and growing steadily as Melbourne prepares for the full roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), there is an endless stream of NDIS related buzz around the community. What will it mean for respite? What will it mean for my child? Quality of service? Will my privacy be protected? Questions abound day-after-day. But there has been little talk about the NDIS and the impact on volunteering in an industry where volunteers – this “army of love” – are the lifeblood of many supports and programs enriching so many lives and providing opportunities across the nation.

Regardless of the implications, Interchange Outer East (IOE) believes in the power of volunteering as a rich and essential ingredient to the sector and to the strengthening of the community starting with its future leaders. IOE is determined to keep the volunteering culture alive and thriving well beyond the uncertainty of the NDIS. Volunteering from the age of 14-plus increases community participation, leadership among young people, quality of service and passion for inclusion and advocacy.

In a seemingly increasing self-centred world there are beacons of hope that remind us all that at the very core of humanness is the spirit of helping out the village so all can participate in the fun of the fair. When that spirit of helping out is replaced with the “what’s in it for me?” you end up with the type of philosophical dogma that proliferates on self interest, meanness and an inability to empathise or understand others situations.

The type of village you end up with is largely one of choice and opportunity. People can choose to shut up shop, draw the curtains, focus on ensuring they are okay and ignore the rest, or people can seek to be involved and help out others where they can. As a community we can focus on developing opportunities for people to get involved or we can decide to stay out of the opportunity game and see what happens.

Alas the prevalent philosophy is idolising the spirit of individualism and the capacity and willingness for the community to create a sense of welcome, inclusion and encouragement for all people appears to be waning. The same can be said of volunteering in our community. Increasingly volunteerism is about what volunteers can get out of the experience and the community is systematically reducing and restricting opportunities to volunteer through restrictive work practices and ever increasing regulatory approaches.

Yet at times things just happen that make you think it will be OK. In the past couple of weeks I have seen a young person with a severe disability be encouraged and supported to be involved in a community group by other young people. I have seen the embracing of a person from a different background by young people to join their social group, and then through IOE I have consistently experienced young volunteers give their time and energy to help children and teenagers have a great time. These are the beacons of hope and IOE has a role to play in ensuring the opportunity to volunteer continues.

So in spite of the individualist philosophy of the NDIS and the professionalisation of support, we remain committed to providing opportunities for young people to volunteer. It’s an opportunity for people to be involved and help out where they can. Young volunteers will be encouraged to get fully involved, develop skills and the capacity to face challenges and persevere. It’s not always easy and sometimes fun does not describe the experience, but young people who volunteer with Interchange will be supported to feel good about what they do. Understanding that their efforts are appreciated, valued by families and Interchange, and, essential to making a service better will enhance the awareness of how their contribution makes the village a better place.

About the author: Fred Brumhead has been the CEO of Interchange Outer East for 28 years, developing and innovating dozens of programs for children and young adults with a disability and their families. Brumhead  leads from the front, creating the can-do, friendly and fun culture that Interchange Outer East is known for.

IOE is currently conducting a youth volunteer recruitment campaign. To learn more about the Volunteer Roadshow visit the website.


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