an article by interview volunteer journalist Lauren Bevilacqua

From learning new skills to learning about yourself, young people across the state are embracing the benefits of volunteering and the opportunities it brings.

Meet three volunteers who share how they have benefitted from volunteering in unexpected ways.

Learning new skills in a relaxed environment

For Naomi Arnold, winner of the 2020 Young Volunteer of the Year Award for the Sydney City / Eastern Suburbs region, an interest in learning more about cerebral palsy has grown into years of volunteering with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. Naomi has volunteered in several programs that allow her to maintain a meaningful connection with participants, other volunteers and the organisation while also having the flexibility to fit her volunteering around her studies in speech pathology.

Despite no direct connection between her volunteering and her studies, Naomi has found hidden benefits through volunteering that are not offered in placements, internships or jobs. “[Placements are] very different to volunteering,” she says. “There are real expectations. There’s curriculum to meet. You have to use very specific skills and you have to be almost perfect every time. You’re being evaluated constantly. Whereas [with] volunteering, I think you’ve got that real opportunity to watch, have a go, make a mistake, try again, watch some more. You can kind of learn at your own pace, I think.”

To other young people considering volunteering, Naomi recommends finding something that matches your interests. “Everywhere can do with volunteers,” Naomi says, “but … I think if you believe in whatever you’re volunteering for it’s so valuable and so much fun for yourself as well as for the community.”

2020 Young Volunteer of the Year Award for the Sydney City / Eastern Suburbs, Naomi Arnold (left)

Giving back to your community and getting to know yourself better

Seeing the value that volunteering brings to communities and individuals is a benefit highlighted by Brittani Nicholl. As well as being a champion surfer, Brittani has been a volunteer ambassador for Crohn’s & Colitis Australia since 2011. This role has allowed her to share her own story of living with Crohn’s disease, supporting others facing similar challenges and raising awareness about inflammatory bowel disease more broadly.

Winner of the 2020 Adult Volunteer of the Year Award for the Northern Rivers region, Brittani’s volunteering allows her to make an impact beyond her local region and she’s encouraged by the work of volunteers across the state.

“Without volunteers … a lot of things wouldn’t be possible because [there are] so many, so many things that are run off the back of just volunteering itself and people … wanting to spend their time helping other people,” says Brittani.

Through helping others, Brittani has also come to better understand herself, pointing to opportunities to reflect on her own experiences. “I think it gives you more appreciation, just in general, for everyday tasks that you do in life and for me it’s rewarding in the fact that I am helping other people.”

On the future of young people volunteering, Brittani says, “I think it’s in good hands with with young people. I think there are a lot of people in positions that could be helping if they’re willing to do it and I think it’s just important to find avenues where you can help, because a lot of young people probably don’t realise how many opportunities there are to be a volunteer.” 

2020 Adult Volunteer of the Year Award for the Northern Rivers, Brittani Nicholl

Discovering new opportunities and experiencing personal growth

One young person who has found new opportunities through being an active member of his community is Joshua Macleod, winner of the 2020 Young Volunteer of the Year Award for the Illawarra region. Joshua credits joining school programs such as the student representative council with putting him on the path to volunteering. “It opened up a lot of opportunity that I didn’t see that was there before,” he says. These days Joshua is pleased to be able to share those opportunities with others.

Joshua has volunteered in various programs over the years and is a founding member of Kind Hearts Illawarra, a charity that provides meals and grocery hampers. Having met people from all walks of life, Joshua says volunteering is a source of character development and a way to stay grounded.

He also encourages other young people to get involved where they can. Even though it can be hard to put time aside, Joshua says, “What’s one week or one afternoon of volunteering, you know, in comparison to the rest of your life? Time-wise, it’s like a small percentage of it. Why not just do it?” 

2020 Young Volunteer of the Year Award for Illawarra, Joshua Macleod

Embrace the possibilities

As these three inspiring young volunteers show, not only can young people make a valuable contribution to communities and organisations, there are also many benefits for young volunteers. From building new skills, to personal growth and unexpected opportunities, volunteering can have a positive impact on volunteers as well as the people and organisations they help.