National Volunteer Week will be celebrated from 17-23 May and is a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the incredible effort of Australia’s six million volunteers. Not-for-profit organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) happily relies on its 500-plus volunteer base to support its work in caring for residents, clients and students.

'Whether through social visits to our aged care residents, helping out in our op shops or supporting people with disabilities with community activities, the dedication and kindness of our 500-plus volunteers continues to humble us,' says Bron Summers, Senior Manager of VMCH Volunteering Services and Opportunity Shops.

Volunteers Miriam Gauci and Bob Martin recently shared how they came to volunteer with the organisation.

A cancer battle was the catalyst for Miriam to begin her volunteer journey with VMCH. During chemotherapy, Miriam was visited by a friendly pastoral care worker whose companionship she enjoyed.

‘I thought, “I could do that”,' Miriam said. ‘I wanted to give back to the community and help people less fortunate than myself.’

In 2018, Miriam began volunteering in a pastoral care role at St Bernadette’s Aged Care Residence, chatting with residents each week. However, in 2019, a return of her cancer meant she could no longer visit the home.

Undeterred, Miriam signed up to volunteer with VMCH’s TeleFriend program, where volunteers make weekly phone calls to people supported by various VMCH services. Each week, Miriam calls Ellen, who cares for her husband full-time.

‘I just listen to how she’s feeling and be supportive of her,’ Miriam, 64, says.

‘Ellen said the other day, "I’ve never met you, but my husband and I love you like a daughter", so that was nice.’

Despite her own health issues and her role as a carer for her 96-year-old mother, Miriam’s motivation for volunteering never wavers. ‘I could decide to sit here and mope and feel sorry for myself but I get more strength to get through my issues when I’m helping other people.'

For 80-year-old Bob Martin, volunteering keeps him young. Bob is a much-loved figure around Gateway Mt Waverley, one of VMCH's day programs for adults with disabilities, where he’s volunteered for over ten years. When Bob retired from the airline industry, he was looking for something to keep him busy. He saw an ad in the paper and started at VMCH soon after.

Despite his own personal struggles, including losing his wife, his son and surviving cancer, Bob’s commitment to Gateway clients has remained strong. Two to three days a week, Bob can be found chatting with clients, helping with meals and assisting with activities and community outings.

'I try to help out as much as I can and just make it a fun day for everyone, both the clients and the staff. We just hang out and joke around.'

The grandfather of seven encouraged others to give volunteering a go.

'I’m mixing with younger people, so it’s kept me young and up to date with what’s going on out in the world. It gets me up, gets me out and keeps me involved.'

Bron says the time and effort put in by all VMCH volunteers is extraordinary. 'We thank them for everything they do not only during National Volunteer Week, but every day.’

VMCH offers a range of volunteering opportunities, from offering companionship, social visits, helping residents to attend religious services, palliative care support, helping with arts and crafts, music, games, education, transport, op shop customer service or support with one-off events. Visit their website or email to learn more.