Twelve Days of Volunteering: Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree how lovely are your branches

OC Connections, formerly known as the Oakleigh Centre has been in operation since 1950.
It started with a group of selfless parents who originally formed the organisation with one simple goal in mind: to find something better for their intellectually disabled children than what was being offered in the 1950s.
For many decades, those parents worked tirelessly to grow that goal and volunteered much of their time to take what simply began as 10 children attending an occupational play centre to what the organisation is today — one of Victoria’s leading providers of disability services.

OC Connection’s Vision is: To enable people to live a life they choose within a society that values individuals for who they are, respects their rights and encourages participation in everyday life.

They deliver a range of specialised and innovative support services to enhance the quality of life for people living with disability, and their families. Integral to enhancing lives is the encouragement to achieve maximum independence as active members of the community

Today, OC Connections provides services to more than 500 adults in the areas of employment, residential, recreation and day services.

Donna Wragg, Volunteer Coordinator was attracted to the role because of the strong tradition of volunteering that has been part of the organisation since its inception.

“I firmly believe in the core values of the organisation which are choice, opportunity, respect and equality. You see these values in every aspect of what the organisation does. There is an amazing feeling of warmth that just envelops you when you walk through the front door, from the participant’s artwork hanging on the walls to the cheerful greeting you get from one of our residents who volunteers on reception you just cannot have a bad start to your day.”

At present OC Connections have around seventy volunteers involved in every aspect of the organisation. The volunteers build and nurture relationships with their participants and share a breadth of knowledge and skills. They support the staff and participants during outings and activities, fundraise for and promote the organisation.

The volunteers also contribute to providing governance, they help maintain the organisations grounds, run the Op Shops they are all encompassing within the operations of the organisation.

“Volunteers provide the organisation with the opportunity to develop and deliver services that we otherwise couldn’t. They share their cultures and bring diversity.”

At the moment OC Connections are in the middle of our annual Christmas tree festival.
Since the early 1960s, OC Connections has been selling Christmas trees to raise funds for the people they support. Each year, they source fresh quality trees from a local farm to sell throughout December.

“We also have a Christmas tree shop that offers a beautiful range of cards, decorations and high quality tree stands. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year. The Tree shop is opened from 1pm-6pm Monday to Friday and 8am-6pm Saturday and Sunday.”

The festival is staffed by volunteers and all profits go to the Centre’s programs. The festival is an opportunity for the organisation to provide fundraising and donations. This is heavily relied upon to supplement their services, enabling OC Connections to buy additional items, like specialist equipment, or to fund lifestyle activities, all things that work towards ensuring they can provide not only services that are of the highest possible standards, but that all those that they support have the opportunity to lead active, involved lives with dignity and independence.

Over the four weeks of the festival, around seventy volunteers will unload Christmas trees, help customers buy a tree, bail trees, carry trees to cars, look after the trees by watering them and trimming them, whilst also selling ornaments and cards.

Volunteers are drawn from many different pockets of the community. Some of the volunteers are friends and family of the organisations participants, some got involved because they have always bought their trees from OC Connections and they want to give back to the organisation so that they can continue their valuable work. Some are staff members who give up their free time on the weekends, others corporate volunteers but many come from the local community. All of this equates to about 500 hours of volunteering.

The organisation receives both State and Federal Funding and without this and the volunteers, the work that is done, could not continue.

“Our organisation is passionate about not only engaging volunteers but ensuring that they have a meaningful relationship with us. We believe that every volunteer role should have a clear purpose that not only adds value to the organisation but ensures that the volunteer feels valued.”

“Volunteer’s play a vital role in assisting us to provide a broad range of services and programs. They are an integral link to the community and our organisation is so much richer for the wonderful contribution they make.”

Throughout 2015-2016 volunteers generously gave 10,020 hours of their time (equivalent to the work of just over five full-time employees) to work within the opportunity shops; activity programs; assisting residents in supported accommodation, they strongly supported the organisation during the weekends; at OCI and with fundraising events. The volunteers work one on one with participants, or accompany groups or families to enjoy a break at Tootgarook holiday house or on community outings.

Volunteers gift to the community
10,020 hours of volunteering, $349,597.00* dollar value of twelve months volunteering.
500 plus disabled adults supported in employment, residential, recreation and day services
*hourly rate for volunteer was calculated using the Duncan Ironmonger Report 2016 projection

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