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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Volunteering: Stronger when we are together

In this second article on volunteering in Wairarapa in recognition of National Volunteer Week, reporter LUCY COOPER explores some of the challenges facing organisations that rely on volunteers.

The double whammy

Karen Bast [Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tahu and Ngāti Kauwhata] joined Masterton’s Māori Wardens on the recommendation of a friend.

“Being part of the community” was the big drawcard for Bast signing up to become one of the nearly 1000 Māori wardens who provide a safety presence on marae, at events, and in the wider community around Aotearoa.

Nearly 20 years later, Bast “has taken on more of a lead role for our group”, ensuring fellow wardens are “all warranted and registered, making sure the checks and balances are done, and making sure we’ve all got a uniform”.

‘But I’m getting closer to retirement age, and I might like to have a break! But I can also see myself wanting to be busy,” Bast said.

As the Masterton wardens have “gone through fluctuations of people leaving”, more of the tasks “have fallen on the shoulders of those who have stayed”, who are generally older people.

“They have the time” to volunteer, Bast said.

“They no longer have to go from place to place for work or for their children and they want something to do that keeps them connected to the community.”

There are currently eight active wardens in Masterton who are available Monday to Friday, and another six or so who can be called on to cover events.

“We’d love to have more, but it’s hard to recruit,” Bast said.

“People want to be paid, and I get that, but we don’t bring in enough [money] to be able to provide secure employment.”

How to encourage people to volunteer is a question “we ask ourselves all the time”, she said.

Masterton’s Māori Wardens are experiencing a “double whammy” common in volunteerism in NZ: an ageing cohort and a diminishing pool of recruits interested in volunteering “formally” in activities coordinated through an organisation like Māori Wardens.

Research into the benefits of volunteering for the well-being of older persons conducted by Dr Solmaz Nazari for Volunteer New Zealand [VNZ] found that the over-65s “are a major source of volunteers with a significant contribution to volunteering activities” and devote “triple the time on unpaid activities than people aged 12–24 years”.

VNZ also found that between 2016 and 2021, participation rates in “formal” volunteering had declined overall.

Finding solutions

The trend in younger volunteers being less likely to want to become secretary or treasurer of a committee or organisation “on an ongoing basis for a number of years” is “well documented”, VNZ chief executive Michelle Kitney said, and overcoming this challenge may require some “thinking outside the square”.

Providing short-term and more flexible ways to volunteer can increase participation, as can creating opportunities for volunteers to develop transferable workplace skills, Kitney said.

Volunteers “want to give and also want to grow”, she said.

Drawing on her own experience, Kitney has “done a lot of volunteering that’s been about building and practising new skills as part of my journey to become a chief executive”.

For Bast, looking after her fellow wardens is a key to retaining them.

“We make sure they’ve got the right gear. We can give them kai – we’re always flush with kai,” Bast said.

Reimbursing any out-of-pocket expenses volunteers incur carrying out warden tasks is also important: “We try and take any expenses away from our wardens. What they do is voluntary, it’s not about them digging into their pockets.”

Sarah-Jane Jensen, a kaitohutohu rerenga rauropi [biodiversity advisor] with Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] who has worked with a range of volunteer groups involved in the restoration of Wairarapa Moana wetlands, believes visibility can be key to attracting the reluctant would-be volunteer.

“Not everyone needs social media to get people to come along,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as when you’re out working or planting, putting out a sign saying, ‘Come and join us’.

“People want to feel like they’re welcome. There are a lot of people who want to get stuck in, and they want to help, and they don’t know where to start. So making yourself visible and letting people know that they’re welcome is quite important.”

For Jensen, volunteering speaks to a universal human truth: “We’ll always be stronger together than separate”.

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