Canberra volunteers say it's a rewarding experience but their numbers are gradually declining (2024)

For Rachel Eslick-Angus, looking back at memories of her father 18 years after his death doesn't get any easier.

She said supporting kids that have lost a parent, guardian or sibling through an organisation called Feel the Magic helps her navigate her own grief.

"Often, grief is a really lonely experience," Ms Eslick-Angus said.

"This gives children an opportunity to see that they've got a network of people who understand the experience."

Ms Eslick-Angus is one of 279,000 people who have volunteered in Canberra – and almost 5 million across the country – this past year.

The efforts of volunteers are being celebrated across the nation this week, as part of National Volunteer Week.

While many volunteers like Ms Eslick-Angus find the experience rewarding and fulfilling, it is getting harder for Australians to maintain their volunteering efforts.

A heavy cost on volunteers

Canberra volunteers say it's a rewarding experience but their numbers are gradually declining (1)

In the past decade there has been a drop in volunteer numbers nationally, from 36.2 per cent in 2010 to 24.8 per cent in 2020 according to a Volunteering Australia report.

While there has been some recovery post-pandemic, broader challenges have impacted people's capacities to volunteer.

CEO of Volunteering ACT, Jean Giese, said cost of living pressures are driving some people away from volunteering.

"People are needing to take up a second or a third job, and we're seeing older Canberrans in particular needing to step away to look after grandkids," Ms Giese said.

She said volunteering can also be a burden on the individual – which should not happen.

According to Volunteering ACT, a lack of time, costs and burnout are recent barriers for people volunteering in the territory.

Nonetheless, many Canberrans are still motivated to help others.

Making their mark, despite the odds

Canberra volunteers say it's a rewarding experience but their numbers are gradually declining (2)

Pranshu Sunil Shende started volunteering at the Community Info Hub in Canberra the first year he moved to the ACT.

As an international student, he began volunteering once a week and worked in hospitality to maintain his day-to-day expenses.

A year later he scored a part-time gig at the same place he had been volunteering.

Mr Shende said volunteering helped him find his pathway to employment, and a sense of belonging.

"Being a part as a volunteer now feels like a second home," he said.

He also finds that by supporting others, he can make a positive contribution to society.

"I always remember what my father taught me; be selfless in giving out, eventually it will come back to you," Mr Shende said.

"Volunteering has been that state where it has come back to me."

Ms Eslick-Angus said her lived experience drives her to support others, and sometimes she structures her annual leave around her volunteer efforts.

"I volunteer in so many different capacities with them, and anytime I can I jump in and do more," she said.

"To be able to help children going through that same experience [I had], and to give them the tools I could've used then is really incredible to be able to do, and I think drives my passion to keep doing it."

Canberra volunteers say it's a rewarding experience but their numbers are gradually declining (3)

While volunteering can be difficult and time consuming, Ms Giese said there are positive health and well-being impacts.

"People that volunteer have the benefit of being able to engage in something that brings them joy, something that is values aligned," Ms Giese said.

"It's a pathway to retirement, it's a pathway to employment."

A space that keeps on giving, needs better investment

Canberra has one of the highest numbers in the country when it comes to volunteering, with 75 per cent of people over the age of 15 having been volunteers.

Ms Giese said volunteering brings high economic value.

Last year, volunteering in the ACT enabled an estimated $14 billion worth of benefits, including $3.3 billion in commercial benefits.

And while the numbers are dropping, demand for volunteers continues to increase – due in part to cost of living pressures.

"Members' organisations are experiencing the highest demand that they ever had in terms of service delivery," Ms Giese said.

However, Ms Giese said we can't keep asking volunteers to do more.

"Volunteers are already volunteering at an average of 19 hours per month … which is a considerable amount," she said.

"Rather, volunteer organisations are calling for better investment to keep up with the demands.

"Those organisations need the investment into volunteer management to make that possible."

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Canberra volunteers say it's a rewarding experience but their numbers are gradually declining (2024)
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