Volunteer Voices - Beautiful walk & entertaining companions on the walking school bus.

For half an hour every Monday morning Nicki Barnard gives back to her community. “I get to have a beautiful walk with some very entertaining companions.” smiles Nicki.

Nicki is a volunteer for The Wānaka Walking School Bus. The Bus was set up to give younger school children living nearby a free, safe and social way to get to school. It operates like a normal bus, only the ‘passengers’ walk. Children are collected from the bus stop (on Anderson Road) and walk along a designated route to school under the supervision of adult volunteer ‘drivers’. At present the bus goes to Wanaka Primary but it has also gone to Holy Family in the past.

Nicki has been volunteering with the Wānaka Walking School Bus for two and half years and says “It’s a great way for Wanaka children to start their day.They arrive at school energised, with fresh air in their lungs and ready to learn. They get to practice basic road safety and in between we chat about everything from nature to what they’ve done on the weekend.”

For some parents, busy with other siblings, or without a car or drivers licence this is a life saver. For others it’s a great way for their smaller children to learn both discipline and independence. Nicki says “They have to turn up at a certain time, negotiate the roads with our help and respect others on the Bus.”

From the UK, Nicki came to New Zealand on a work visa with a friend 20 years ago. Nicki says “A six month trip turned into residency and citizenship and I’ve never looked back.” Now with her partner and 8 year old daughter Zara, Nicki enjoys the Wanaka lifestyle - walking, bike riding and skiing. Her happy place is dancing Ceroc when she gets the chance.

Self-employed, Nicki has two strands to her business: a busy Housekeeper role and her real passion of being a professional Home Organiser. ”It’s helping people who might be a bit overwhelmed in their home situation. Whether I’m organising a pantry or wardrobe or helping prepare for a house renovation, it's really satisfying.”

She isn't a stranger to volunteering having been part of the local Buddy Programme and a Brownie leader in the UK. “I’m a community minded person and like to help where I can,”she says. When she and Zara saw the Walking Bus sign on Anderson Road they were curious and investigated further. Soon after Zara became a passenger and Nicki became a driver.

Nicki likes the fact that The Walking School Bus is well organised, structured and safety focused. Children have to be enrolled prior to joining and are then provided with a fluro safety vest and a prize card. A simple merit system keeps the children motivated with prizes throughout the term and a Facebook page keeps parents informed.

Zara travels on the bus most days. She says “I really like it because it’s fun and I get to walk and chat with my friends on the way to school.”

For Nicki this volunteer role ticks a few boxes. “I’ve got to meet some lovely people who live in my neighbourhood who I mightn’t have met otherwise, I’m giving back to my community and encouraging fewer cars on the road.”

Maybe you have a child that would like to join or maybe you would like to be a Walking School Bus driver? Nicki says “It’s not a huge commitment, just half an hour a week in the morning. It’s a great way to start the day and such a lovely way for you or your children to connect with the local community.”

Written by Juliette Hicks for Volunteer South and the Wānaka Walking School Bus to raise awareness of the role and inspire more people to volunteer.

The Walking School Bus is a non-profit community group. Volunteers work on a rostered basis and are provided with all the resources and support they need. If you would like to know more about the Walking Bus contact Vien Luong at vnslounge@gmail.com

At Volunteer South - Central Lakes, we can discuss your skills and goals for volunteering and help make the perfect match. For more information about this role go to https://volunteersouth.org.nz/roles/1757/walking-school-bus-volunteer or see more volunteer roles at www.volunteersouth.org.nz