HelpOUT volunteering stories
After losing her Kinglake home to the Black Saturday fires Fiona Leadbeater decided to get involved and help others in her community, ’It’s not like I had any vacuuming to do’ she jokes.
Heading to the local Shire offices with no real plan Fiona became one of the vital volunteers helping the community to recover.
‘I had to apply my own skills to some very new and different roles, and just learn on the job. It was difficult, but I learnt so much from the experience.’
Fiona took on many and varied roles during the weeks that followed Black Saturday from managing donated goods, to liaising with other agencies and managing spontaneous volunteers from the local and wider community. The people who turned up to help mostly did so because they had been affected by trauma or had previously been helped out and wanted to give back. ‘It is vital to listen to these people and openly communicate about what skills they have, if you don’t ask they often won’t tell. You need to determine their background and their motivation for volunteering, and then match their skills to a real need within the community.’
For many local people being able to volunteer and get involved in the recovery process helps them to recover from the trauma as well. They feel it is important to help and they value being allowed to help in these situations.
‘Having a list of the spontaneous volunteers that turned up left us well placed to mobilise a ready to go workforce to assist in community recovery.’
‘While this was a challenging role within an even more challenging environment, I would do it all again tomorrow. It was so rewarding and great to be able to contribute to getting the community back on its feet.
We achieved some amazing things and it was great to see all these terrific people who made a real difference.’
‘The ability to register your details before an emergency would relieve a lot of pressure for those in the thick of it while it is all happening.’
Jenny, a long term resident of Kinglake, jumped in to help as a volunteer at the Shire office for two weeks following the devastating Black Saturday bushfires.
‘The new people that kept turning up were amazing, so many were from outside of our community and we were all exhausted and needed all the help we could get. I only volunteered for 14 days but we were just so busy it felt like a lot longer. Having these people turning up with their varied skills was really important – but we didn’t have a way to manage them, there was no system in place and sometimes volunteers would get frustrated that they couldn’t help. HelpOUT’s ability to pre- register people and matching their individual skills to real community needs will make a huge difference.’
‘I remember people from middle management of various government departments turning up and it was great to be able to put people at a desk with a phone and say “Write me a list of those who have dangerous trees or tanks that needed pumping out” and they just got in and did it.’
‘I acted as a liaison between the community and various agencies such as Victoria Police, Telstra and the SES. It is vital that local people are involved as they are the ones with all the local knowledge, from what a street is called versus what it is known as locally, to where the vulnerable people are. You just can’t beat that local knowledge, it is critical to the recovery process.’
‘I think one of the most important things for volunteers in situations like this is flexibility. The ability to multi task and being prepared to take on anything is invaluable.’
‘One of my memories of effective spontaneous volunteering was this guy who turned up with an esky full of Cornetto ice creams. We had been living off sausages and BBQ for weeks and to have this man arrive was truly amazing. His act contributed to a real need within the community, spirits were lifted that day.’
‘I learnt so much from volunteering after the fires and would urge people to register their details before a disaster occurs. I can only imagine how much this would have helped after the Black Saturday bushfires. To have had an ‘army’ of pre-registered volunteers and their skills would have been amazing.