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Region’s ageing volunteer ranks

National Volunteer Week, which finishes tomorrow, is an annual opportunity to recognise the large number of individuals who give up precious time to help the community.

Te Tari Taiwhenua Internal Affairs has estimated the economic value of volunteering to New Zealand at $4 billion a year, and many organisations depend on this unpaid generosity in Wairarapa.

Part-time workers – particularly women and those aged 65 years and older – are most likely to be involved in volunteer work nationally, according to Stats NZ, a trend that appears to hold true locally.

Sam Milligan is something of a Wairarapa volunteering icon.

He received a service award last year for over 50 years of volunteering and was commended for his work with Wairarapa Search and Rescue [SAR] WanderSearch tracking pendants.

Milligan said his life-long commitment to SAR volunteering was possible due to supportive work and home environments, especially from his “understanding better half”.

“You have to have an understanding partner,” said Milligan.

“Because the phone rings and you just have to leave.”

Notable SAR missions Milligan has been a part of in Wairarapa over his service included the 10-day search for Featherston six-year-old Coral Burrows and 11-day search for Tararua tramper Darren Myers.

Milligan said operations like these would look very different without volunteers.

“It would wake a few people up. If the volunteers decided to have a three-month holiday, the country would be absolutely buggered.”

Milligan said he is concerned about filling volunteer roles in the future, given the number of pensioner volunteers in Wairarapa.

“People of my generation, that’s how we were brought up,” Milligan said.

“We don’t expect to get paid for it and we still do it.”

Riversdale Surf Lifesaving club captain Mike Taylor also has an extensive volunteering
history in Wairarapa.

It began with coaching ripper rugby at the local club where his son played, and over the years he also gave up time to be on
the school board of trustees
and ski club, where he was president.

But the volunteer work Taylor is largely recognised for is his contribution to the Riversdale Surf Club, which earned him the region’s 2018 Volunteer of the Year award.

The appeal of volunteering comes from a desire to be “part of the solution”, Taylor said.

The future of volunteering, Taylor said, relies on more people getting involved.

“There’s a lot of us in our 50s, 60s still doing this stuff.

“Us dinosaurs probably need to move on. We need to find more people, to do less,” said Taylor.

Wairarapa’s foodbanks rely heavily on volunteers to carry out a number of different roles.

Dianne Smith volunteers at the Masterton branch once a week.

“I’ve basically lived in Masterton my whole life, and just want to help people,” she said.

“It’s a good way to do something good for the community now I’m retired.”

Smith said it is mostly an older demographic filling up Wairarapa’s volunteer roles.

“I suppose we have more time,” she said.

“Hopefully the next generation will pick it up.”

Another long-time volunteer at Masterton Foodbank, Evelyn Skeet, also gives up her time to volunteer at Hospice Wairarapa and Alzheimer’s Wairarapa.

Skeet said she, like her fellow volunteers, has also observed an older crowd filling in volunteer demand for the region.

“It’s a changing world. The young generation, they’re all busy. It’s the older ones and the retired ones that fill in the gaps,” Skeet said.

The benefit of volunteering for retirees is that “it makes you get up in the morning and go”, Skeet said.

“There’s always plenty of volunteering to do in the community, and people who need it – desperately in some situations.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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