Volunteer Voices - "That's why I love volunteering. I meet the best people." - Laura

Laura Watkins loves a good chat. “I’m a very social person and I love meeting people from different walks of life and learning new things from them” says the Year 13 Mount Aspring College (MAC) student. “That’s why I love volunteering. I meet the best people.”

On fire with energy and enthusiasm Laura’s volunteering resume is already bursting at the seams although she says “I don’t feel like it’s volunteering. It’s just what I do.”

An avid sailor from the age of eight Laura is one of the youngest committee members for the Wānaka Yacht Club. “My happy place is out on the water, in great sailing conditions with my friends and I’m lucky I can combine my volunteering with my passion.”

Laura is paid to help with the juniors sailing at the Club and her volunteering started last year when she attended the Blake Inspire for Sailors programme which is designed to inspire young people and help them bring this inspiration back to their communities.

“That’s when we were introduced to Yachting New Zealand’s Clean Club Programme which is an initiative to help yacht and boat clubs be more environment focused and confident in their sustainability journey. It’s about keeping our playground healthy.”

Laura and her friend Erica Hudson brought the programme back to Wānaka and now all members of the Yacht club work hard to achieve the best practice criteria which makes them a Clean Club. Laura says “It can be as simple as us changing to an environmentally friendly sunscreen or more complex like developing ongoing waste management practices.”

Born in Christchurch, Laura and her family moved to Wānaka around the time of the earthquakes. “I was only young then but I was conscious of how a community can really come together in hard times.” Her family has a strong volunteering ethic and she has great role models to encourage her community spirit.

Volunteering is part of the fabric of her school life at MAC too. Head of the Service Committee she is one of a group of students committed to giving back to the community and developing a positive spirit inside the school.

She says it’s been an action packed year for the Committee and reels off a list of activities they have initiated and organised including a successful mufti day raising funds for the Red Cross for Cyclone Gabrielle relief, working with the local branch of the Cancer Society to have student input into the Relay for Life (and doing it!) and running a teacher’s Pink Ribbon breakfast.

From a personal point of view a highlight was speaking at this year’s Dawn Parade. “It was a special moment for me, not only remembering the sacrifices of the past, but also representing those currently active in the armed forces.”

Laura says life is hectic but she is organised and the rewards are significant and meaningful.

“Through my volunteering I’ve made incredible connections with all sorts of people and I have more respect for different points of view. I’m even more grateful for volunteers now too. The many volunteers at the sailing club all those years have helped make me the person I am. It goes to show you really can make a difference.”

Written by Juliette Hicks for Volunteer South, 2023