Saturday 23rd October 2021

Who’s A Volunteer? 34/2021.

Who’s a Volunteer? 34/2021.

It’s said, by many, that when you get to retire from paid work you might like to consider being a volunteer. I agreed with that notion.

Are you a volunteer?

Maybe you are not even retired but still a volunteer.

Here’s something about what this has been for me, and with a few notes about my husband’s experiences.

Retired Couple. 2015.

From this Australian government organisation in 2015 here is this.

           Definition: Volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.

The following areas are not considered to meet each of the core requirements of volunteering (‘without financial gain’, ‘willingly given’ and ‘for the common good’) and hence are not included in this definition of volunteering. It is acknowledged that many of these have a constructive, positive and vital role in society and may exist alongside volunteering and / or provide a pathway into volunteering.

• Direct family responsibilities are excluded. It is recognised that direct familial relationships vary for different people and social groups and so this is open to individual interpretation. In addition, foster carers have many similarities with volunteers, but because of the family relationship, these are outside this definition of volunteering.

• A number of programs are highly structured, with fixed requirements and provide options of volunteering type activities but with limited choice and/or varying types of in-built financial or reward outcomes. These vary widely and are excluded from this definition. Examples include:  Compulsory educational service learning (where students are required to volunteer as part of a course) Mandated court orders including community service and fines  Internships  Formal work experience / vocational placements  Mandatory government programs  Limited choice labour market government programs

• Volunteering requires a donation of time. Other types of donating such as giving money or materials and donating blood are not considered volunteering, although it is acknowledged there is a time element required in these forms of donating

My Experiences.

These started around the time I was in partial retirement from around 52. Later, they were when I was over 65.

  • With caring for our grandchildren, over time, for no financial reward ever but the joy of memories made. However, see above, ‘not about volunteering.’


  • teaching English in women’s homes in the community. A one-to-one experience, for which I had to do some training, at no cost to me, and also provide materials for the women. I enjoyed it and I think the two women became more confident over time of having an English speaker helping them I found it a bit too one-sided as the women, who were at home because of child-rearing were not completing even the smallest of ‘between times’ work. 


  • helping in Smith Family Parramatta  office prior to Christmas one year taking phone calls from people who wanted to register for the Smith Family Christmas hampers. This meant I had to drive into Parramatta, park my car, and attend the office for about 4 hours. I took down details and recorded them so families could be included by Christmas. It was quite boring for someone who had only recently ran a school but I also needed “not” to have responsibility to assist my mental health recovery. That role finished abruptly when I managed to break my ankle getting out of the car at home after a shift there. No, I did not pursue work related claim.


  • becoming a volunteer at local art gallery did not even reach training stage. Once we arrived on the Central Coast, I wanted to settle in (as I thought then) with some busy activities. Trouble was that emotionally I was not up to this role’s training requirements (I.B.S. would strike any time) and I also add that by the time I decided to step away from this, I realised how ‘cliquey’ the other volunteers were and felt excluded anyway. I was new to the area and ‘felt’ I was an outsider.


  • looking after ethics program in local area when we first moved to the  Central Coast seemed like a win/win for me as I needed some work of a productive kind while my husband already had his weeks in retirement sorted. I liked the people I met at the schools and was already helping get new people on board to be teachers when I felt something that did not seem quite right. You see, I felt conflict. I am, NSW teacher/principal at heart, and this program was independent to schools and I could see a conflict of interest  that I could not brush off. I sensed, and heard for good reason that it was an Us vs Them issue and I could not continue. I tried to let them have this feedback but it was a political hot potato and I left.


  • teaching mindful colouring was something I was passionate about in the midst of my first year of doing my best to settle to a new way of life. The local independent bookshop was happy to support my plan where I would supply all materials and I just needed a space. A local cafe owner said yes to that as we would be buying coffees. And off we went. We had 4 the first week. Then down to 3. Sadly, I was not prepared to continue because of this. I really did think this would work. No it did not. 


  • creating bookmarks for the charity The Big Hug Box. This was a passion for me as I was using my distraction activities of art, designs and more to create bookmarks as part of my post-cancer treatments. I’d be helping this new 2018 charity with my donations of goods and time. I also donated more than 300 bookmarks over time and took part in a packing day. Still on call if needed but I stopped the bookmarks.


  • teaching mindful mandala making and colouring because I wanted to share the ways in which this is helpful for our emotional health. I instigated this idea through my local library. Honestly, just as well I have determination because so many stumbling blocks were put in my way… no personal indemnity insurance ( and no, I was not going to pay for it) and then, oh, you would have to do our volunteer course to do this here, and no we don’t have any training coming up. I was ready to give up, when the local librarian – all part of the huge council area – said, you can have the space and I will say I am the organiser. Truly. Anyway, it went well over 4 weeks. I provided everything. I did offer it again, and waited in the empty room on two occasions and after that, I did not return.


  • I also offered to a women’s shelter that I could do this course in mindful colouring if they thought there was a need. They said yes, but without my person indemnity insurance, I could not start. So, another loss.


  • I also supplied Chris O’Brien Lifehouse with books of my designs and many pieces of media for in-patient art and visitors’ mindful colouring as it was a practical contribution I could make as I lived 2 hours away.


  • I am an ‘unofficial’ supporter  of Public Education via my social media and other presence and it’s one way I like to stay supportive and connected. 


  • In 2017 I was diagnosed with a head and neck cancer, and in a way to help me understand more about my cancer (there are many types of head and neck cancer) my two surgeons directed me to what was then called Beyond Five. Over time, I learned more about Beyond Five and the almost 100% volunteer support it requires the website going, changing and being of use. About a year into my recovery, I shared my story with Beyond Five, and then following my head and neck team’s assurance I seemed to be doing the right thing with my social media and other messages, I was invited to become an  Ambassador for what is now called Head and Neck Cancer Australia.


  • Being a member of the local Central Coast Head and Neck Cancer support group which meets monthly and being a contributor to sharing knowledge and awareness to others affected as patients or carers or family members.


  • I was very pleased to know I could be a mentor for Public Education via another way, supporting a student with a funded scholarship. However, over the time of being accepted, and then getting ready to help this person, I was not confident of the ways in which the program was run. I wanted to feel I could find support as I was learning the program via on-line systems but with little to no communication, I have declined their offer. Sadly, with some organisations this can be what happens.


  • My blog has been a voluntary activity. I have been able to write, share, find friends from this amazing medium. I do it all on my time, when I can, and it’s a great volunteer role because “I” am in charge of this one. My blog is over 10 years old now and brings me a great deal of personal reward.

My Husband’s Experiences: not all as a retiree! The last 3 were.

  • P&C President at our local primary school for 7 years our son was there.
  • Scouts President whilst our son was part of cubs.
  • Volunteer Teacher of Children in The Westmead Kids’ Hospital.
  • Safety House Co-ordinator in our neighbourhood in the 1980s -1990s- remember those?
  • Local Community Progress Association President.
  • President Local Drama Society in a Country Town.
  • Musical Director of performances over 3 years in that town.
  • President Ecumenical Council at local Church in the country town
  • National Charity Telephone Crisis Support.
  • National Charity  Face to Face Counsellor.
  • Driver: Cancer Patients To Appointments.

Some feedback we would LOVE to give to organisations where we no longer volunteer. Do not, please, take our service or time for granted. In my husband’s case, he PAID hundreds of dollars towards his training to be National Charity TSC…and as he was also doing a University course to become a trained counsellor, there were costs there. However, he was pleased to be able to help and learn via his supervisors how he was proceeding. This is when it becomes tricky. Those ‘people’ in charge of volunteers are paid and for some, the power of the position became a lack of respect in dealings over time. It does not take too much guessing to know why volunteers may leave. In my husband’s case, he did leave to become my carer as I had just had my cancer diagnosis. In another instance, the driving role, the system was so poorly organised on some days he would leave our place at 8.00 a.m. and not return till 6.00 p.m. because of poor planning for patients’ needing being collected, taken to the hospital and then collected.

He no longer performs any volunteer roles. 


Some further comments about volunteering here.

1. Stay active and engaged with life

2. Helping others makes you feel happy

3. Make new social connections

4. Have new experiences and learn new skills

5. Change someone’s life – change your own


My husband and I also ask each other, is it because we have both been leaders in our work places that we find it hard(er) to be a volunteer….or maybe that is not the reason. We can also see that organisations who need volunteers  to assist their services must go through quite a bit themselves in judging suitability and more. It’s perhaps the reason why I wrote this post. I was so sad to relinquish the mentor role but I also knew, that understanding my need to clarity and certainty in doing this role well, I could not, if I had not a great deal of faith in the organisation’s representative. 

This post comes under a few of my topics, including stories about ageing which I write about from time to time. I know you do not have to be a retiree to volunteer but most of my activities were then. 

Are you a volunteer?

Tell us more.


Linking up here with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.



  1. Hi Denyse, both you and your husband have certainly given back to your community in so many ways. Volunteering can be such a rewarding experience. I found when my MIL was alive and I volunteered at her aged care home, I always came away feeling blessed. Blessed to have met some beautiful souls, blessed to have my health and blessed to have made a difference in someone’s life even if it was just a few hours. Sometimes, we can overcommit and volunteering can become a chore, however there are so many benefits to enriching our lives by utilising our skills or just our desire to help others. A lovely post. x

    • Thank you Sue for your considered and kind words.

      That is so lovely to read about your MIL and her place of residence and how good it was for you…and those who were there, of course and you MIL.

      I agree about over-committing and whilst that looks like quite a list here, it was over some years.

      The thing for me is that the organisation needs to be something I feel drawn to…and education and head and neck cancer are those but IF I feel I am being drained, not heard or even not receiving replies to enquiries, then “MY” time is more valuable for me, and sadly I have just relinquished a position that was a great fit. I won’t go into it but a lack of communication is a sign that it’s not for me.

      I love being helpful but having come through a major illness I also know how to best manage my reserves and this year I was ready for something ‘new’ and helping in a field that I was well suited. However, not happening. I have sent feedback so it’s OK and I am not bitter but disappointed more than anything.

      Thanks for your lovely perspective. Sunshine on a rainy day!


  2. I have been a volunteer but it has been a very mixed bag of experiences on the full range of very positive to being screamed at by a jerk, so if I ever look to do it again, it will be with a lot of questions to the organisation. Which I feel isn’t appreciated by those who just want free labour.

    • I know what you mean, Vanessa.

      B would say this too, in some places it can be the best of experiences and in others, you are treated poorly.

      I hoped this post would have some conversations happening about volunteering and it is.

      Thank you for your perspective too. Always welcomed and valued.


  3. Wow, you have done so much for your community. I have done a bit of volunteer work but would love to do more in the future.

    • Thanks so much Anne. Great to see you here! Most if not all of mine was done after raising kids…and I was into being a grandmother by my late 40s. I think we can all find something that resonates but unlike a job, we can choose how much to give, and when to leave.


  4. Denyse, you are keeping busy and contributing so much to society. Since I have retired, I have had several volunteer jobs. The one I am most involved with is Meals on Wheels. We deliver meals to the elderly and disabled people in our community who cannot get out or cook for themselves.

    • Thanks so much Laurie.

      It wasn’t till I started writing this post that I began recalling so many of the roles.

      I remember seeing on your blog or maybe other social media that you do Meals on Wheels. How good that must be for those who, even in non-covid times, cannot get out and you bring some of the world to them.

      My late Mum did meals on wheels for many years too.


  5. I’ve ‘worked’ in the Uniform shop, ‘taught’ Ethics and done the MultiLit reading, as well as general class room reading and kitchen….This is the first time in a long time I haven’t been on some sort of fundraising committee (or after-school care board). I do the BBQ at the high school but that’s sort of it at the moment. Lost my ‘ompf’

    • I know you have given a lot of your time, enthusiasm and energy to schools in the years your kids have attended. Thank you for that because public schools NEED all the good volunteers like you they can get.

      I found Ethics as a concept good but as the ‘supervisor’ of the program, the volunteers and the schools found it very tricky. It was for me, far too political a ‘hot potato’ and for me, again I would prefer if all kinds of religious instruction was no longer done in schools. However, it is legislated and that is why Ethics got a gig. No government in NSW wants to take the responsibility of ditching Special Religious Instruction…..

      Losing your oomph…I am not surprised. You have done so much and last year really affected your health.

      Take care,

  6. I was on committees when the kids were at school – usually as Secretary and I went to lots of working bees etc. In more recent times I tried volunteering as a Foster Carer for Kittens. Loved it but then along came Covid and the fact I adopted two of the kittens I had cared for. Now I had one and sometimes two family members working from home and two cats. The dynamics changed. Spare room was now an office and I had less room to set up for fosters and more animals at home to consider. I also have had to consider my own health – I have an immune deficiency and with Covid here needed to minimise contact with others. Then there’s the fact that the RSPCA is a very long drive from here and with neonatal kittens the trip was needed to be made far too often for vet visits and at unpredictable times. I found this part very stressful. I’m right in the thick of peri/menopause and have quite dreadful symptoms so I’ve had to step back from additional stress and look after myself. I think I’ll volunteer again in some capacity when the time is right though – because I believe that giving back is very rewarding.

    • Oh Min, that is a shame but I think you have done this right. Your health is your 100% priority.

      I think in my case, especially when I was first living here on the coast, I knew I had skills to offer. However, my own emotional health was probably not as robust as it could be.

      I have learned now, very well, to set limits to what and where I will give my time and efforts and energy. I also think what we volunteer for one time won’t necessarily be what we do another time.

      I was so hoping the education mentoring role would work out but when the person who I needed to contact was overwhelmed in the work (as it was explained to me by the executive director) and did not respond to me over a week + I thought that it would be unlikely, should I need advice, that I might get it in a timely manner. I relinquished the role before I was assigned a Year 12 student and did so because there would be no letting down of that person. I am still to have a response from the person concerned but will of course, ‘let it go’.

      I hope your health improves for you to be able to enjoy aspects of life that mean the most to you.


  7. On behalf of The Big Hug Box we are so grateful for your volunteered time and support to our organisation. After we founded The Big Hug Box and had community come forward to volunteer, we were so grateful! It is of highest importance to us that our volunteers time is valued and considered precious. Thank you for all that you and your husband have contributed.

    • That is so lovely Lisa and your founding of the Big Hug Box is an ideal example of an organisation not being about or for you but for others. I have been so fortunate to have contributed in my small (and practical way) in the early days of the Big Hug Box. I am overjoyed each time I catch up with your updates. Today’s was memorable because you told your story of Tracy and how you met. I was around the on-line scene just after that and followed her too. What a privilege it was to join Tracy, your Mum and others that day back in November 2018 to pack RHOK boxes. I am still up for a packing day you know!!

      Thanks for your kind words. Now you have two at school you would be even more aware of how much we in schools need volunteers to keep many of the funding and other programs going. So thank YOU for your friendship and kindness…always appreciated.


  8. Hi Denyse – I’ve volunteered all my life – from roles in the church (Sunday School teaching, youth group leading, women’s ministry, church secretary) to P&C secretary, mentoring in my local primary school, helping in my children’s school, helping in a school library, and other things I’ve forgotten. I’m currently helping in a large playgroup – making cups of coffee for the mums, holding babies, chatting, and being a listening ear.

    I don’t think you can ever expect to be appreciated as much as you deserve to be when you volunteer – it’s often taken for granted (as are the numerous skills you bring to the role). I just have something in me that likes to offer help where I can and to feel like I’m giving something back for all the blessings I’ve been given in my own life.

    I’ve noticed there seems to be less volunteers these days – people are so busy with their careers and their leisure activities – a lot of organizations now pay people to do the roles that volunteers used to take on – it’s a sad sign of our times. And also, walking away when you reach the end of your enjoyment of the position is crucial – otherwise resentment starts to set in at that underlying lack of appreciation. But it’s also nice to look back and to know that you contributed above and beyond isn’t it? xx

    • I liked reading your perspective and of your experiences as a volunteer. You reminded me I used to be Sunday School teacher in my early teens!

      I think it is a two way street with volunteering. It may not be an even playing field but there does need to be a sense that you are appreciated in some way.

      One of my husband’s roles was driving people to cancer treatments and he was ideal as he is an empathetic listener and trained counsellor. However, it was the organisation that let him down with its poor communication and he was not able to continue to do this for more than a few with such challenges. He did offer feedback and the charity which organises it has funding but I am guessing not much changed.

      I love your involvement with the playgroup. Sounds ideal.

      Thanks Leanne, good to know your views.


  9. Great post, Denyse. Volunteering needs to be fun and fulfilling. Helping the community is a joy if it is a positive experience but like any role where hierarchies are involved it can become a clash of personalities or even a power play.

    • Ah Maureen, you hit the nail on the head…the hierarchies. And as we know coming from a profession with those that they can exist as power plays.

      I saw that with the social media and actual conversations overheard when I first tried the idea of volunteering at the Art Gallery. Overheard those who were also volunteers having chats about their various previous careers and so on and I felt excluded. I know my emotional health was low but it’s a fact. I would never have felt ‘one of them’.

      I like the different ways we can all make a difference if we choose to and the example of what you do for HNC and the patients, carers and professionals in both your own area and via the FB page is indicative of you finding the ‘right place and space’ to give and to help others.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  10. Oh Denyse, you hit the nail on the head with this post on the Good – the Bad – and the Ugly of volunteering. I’ll just say I’ve been there and done that.
    I seem to have spent my life volunteering in various ways – face to face and in kind. My most recent role (organising musical memory activities as well as afternoon tea lady) in an aged care community has been on hold for a year now because of ‘you know what’ and I do miss that contact with the oldies but I’m sure in time it will begin again. My most fun ‘job’ was working in an op shop – only one position ended in ‘tears’……after years of ‘happy service’ for a national organisation who dealt with ‘sudden death in children’ it finished just like that (by me) with a change of personnel and expectations.
    Take care

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Snap and all that to our experiences, Cathy.

      What a shame it is when the very organisations we help then change so much (as they can and will) that they lose skills and experience in terms of those like you who have been there for a while.

      Something related to ‘power’ perhaps…it seems to happen quite a bit and I know my Dad was affected by that too in his many years of being the auditor and bookkeeper for a community group where, over time, the newer executive thought they knew better and more. Dad said, “bye bye”.


  11. Hi Denyse, I think you and your husband have definitely done your fair share of volunteering. I’ve done volunteering in a few different roles, as has my partner and I can agree with the problems that you pointed out. At the moment I’m on the Positive Ageing Council for the City of Bendigo, and doing various volunteer roles in genealogy. I had a chuckle when I saw your post, as just now I’m writing a post for #lifethisweek about an event that I have previously volunteered for.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks Jennifer to adding to the conversation on volunteering. At least like this we know we are not alone!!

      I think from what I see of your roles, there is a good balance for you. I hope it stays that way!


  12. I’m so glad you at least had the experience of volunteering, even though some of it was a disappointment. I’m so sorry so few people can to your mindful coloring classes both at the bookshop and the library.

    As for me, I was a member of a political party for five years between the ages of 16 and 21. I tried to get onto the local board, but was advised to withdraw the first time since they supposedly had a better candidate, even though the entire local chapter didn’t develop then at all. Then at some point I volunteered for flyering, but that didn’t work at all with my being multiply-disabled.

    • Hello Astrid, nice to see you back.

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Volunteering is actually something most people give a go, but once rejected a few times, or not feeling like it’s where you are welcomed soon turns us off.


  13. Hi Denyse, Both you and your husband have given back a lot to your community. During the covid-19 pandemic, I volunteer to call and chat with my elderly neighbours who live alone. I’m still doing it as we’re still in lockdown. I signed up to volunteer at running races and food banks last year but they were cancelled due to the pandemic. I volunteered to mentor younger and less experienced workers for a few years. I also volunteered in hospitals. With blogging, I volunteered to host the weekly Weekend Coffee Share and as you know, hosting takes more time than just blogging. Thank you for linking with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    • Thank you kindly Natalie.

      It’s often not until we look back, as I did with this post, that I saw just how much we did (and I still do) to contribute to our local and wider communities.

      Covid sure did cut off many people from connecting with others in a big way. Glad you were able to help locally and that you are well enough to do so when others may not be.

      Lovely to read of your experiences.


  14. I have volunteered for a number of positions with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Assn. over the years: website coder, the annual Halloween Poetry online reading, and as interim Secretary. It was a good way to get involved in interacting with other people. I did volunteer work also with my husband as a weather spotter (amateur radio group) and at our local marksmanship center. My chemical and fragrance sensitivities got bad enough that I don’t go out, anymore.

    I did take on an interesting involvement for 12 years as a volunteer registered agent in my state on behalf of the national nonprofit Center on Conscience and War, which works to defend and extend the rights of conscientious objectors. In my mid-70s, now, I am concentrating my energy in areas where my forgetfulness and interludes of illness will not endanger or inconvenience anyone. Mostly writing poetry and occasional essays and keeping up on my micro and art photography work.

    I think highly of volunteer work. My parents were variously involved throughout their lives, as well as many siblings, nieces, nephews, and their offspring. Best wishes to you!

    • Thank you so very much Lizi for your comment, and visiting here. You certainly have made many contributions over your life and that is awesome. Loved all the ways in which you can still feel connected via volunteering.

      A really interesting life you have led.


  15. Hi Denyse, I volunteered a lot when I was younger but I found it very time consuming and emotionally draining. The worst part of it was that the organisers can take advantage of you. I spent 10 years running the children’s church and youth group, plus another role in the church. I had minimal help and it was a huge responsibility looking after large numbers of children and teenagers. I was constantly let down by the other volunteers. In the end I had to walk away, not just from the volunteering, but also that church because it became detrimental to my health. The priest did not support me in any way. I also volunteered at Schoolies on the Gold Coast, as well as many roles over the years at my children’s schools. I don’t do any volunteering now, I consider that my years of fulfilling my obligations in the past were enough. I may try it again in retirement, who knows?! Thank you for sharing the realities of volunteering – it’s not always an enjoyable experience which you have expressed well. Regards Christina

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Christina, I got tired reading those instances of you volunteering for 10 years…with little to no support. That is cruel and certainly does not do the church any good in terms of compassion.

      It is yet, from what you outline, another instance of where the one (you!) good, kind and reliable volunteer did the work of others. I am so glad, you finally saw the light and left.

      Gosh, you really have done quite a bit and seriously, time for you…and that part time work you long to be part of again.

      Take care, we need you to stay well!! Your family does too.


  16. Hi Denyse, volunteering is something I’ve done for years and so has my husband. I’ve been a Nursing Mothers Counsellor and group leader, Brownies & Guide Leader, school roles when my daughters were at primary and high school, I’ve helped many local groups, am currently a long serving volunteer on our rail trail committee and have been a Rotary member for years – just a small selection of roles! I enjoy giving my time and efforts and generally they are appreciated.
    I appreciated your honesty in your post, sharing the good and the bad and applaud you both for your selflessness over the years.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Debbie, without people such as you and your husband and my parents too organisations such as Scouts and Guides etc would fold.

      Mum and Dad met through Scouting and whilst I was not a keen Brownie/Guide, Mum did her share of volunteering as did Dad because my brother did the whole scout thing.

      Nursing mothers, so handy for me as a ‘new to breastfeeding the second time round mum’, was of course a great benefit.

      Living in your country town I imagine not much would be done with the hearts and souls of good people such as yourselves and that is such a good thing your town has going…I sure hope that it continues with ease for you both. We both know “politics” can challenge groups and volunteers but with all the teaching/education skills you both have, the town and its community are fortunate yo have you.

      I was disappointed with the latest volunteering gig going the way it did because of a lack of communication. I heard back from the Executive director but nothing at all from the person who liaises with the mentors. Not good, in terms of fostering relationships. I just wanted to ask some questions!!


  17. This is awesome Denyse. So many opportunities. I admit I haven’t done a whole lot of volunteering but have done some when I’ve been able to.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thank you so much kirstin. I think we can only take on what we can around our work and family and other commitments.