What a February!

I have been told, numerous times, that Volunteering Otago has a rather ambitious year planned. I didn’t think too much of it until I finished my Annual Plan for the year and realised I had nine action points! I’m confident that we will accomplish what we set out to do this year and the reasoning behind that is that we spent the end of last year looking at all the gaps and talking, working with, and collaborating with not-for-profits and agencies to see what could be done about these gaps. I am pleased to say that while we have nine action points, a lot of them are strongly collaborative based. The Dunedin community is beyond exceptional at collaboration.

The ambitions for Volunteering Otago really made its point home to me, however, when late on a Saturday night, I got a call from Hamish Walker, MP for Clutha-Southland. He wanted to know if Volunteering Otago would help support the farmy army in the Southland clean-up by sending volunteers down to Gore. I didn’t think that our ambitions were so huge that it was getting noticed by members of parliament!

Part of our Dunedin campaign for supporting the Farmy Army. Registrations of interest now closed but not before we had over 100 people enquire!

We set up an urgent appeal for volunteers, and by the end of the week, there were 50+ keen people willing to go down, get mucked in, and support our regional neighbours. Unfortunately, the weather packed in, and we were unable to send the team down because of safety concerns, but within 3 short days of our appeal being opening, we had over 100 enquiries – all in the week before O-week with people setting up homes and meeting flatmates. Again, I was blown away by the response from the Dunedin community.

Volunteering Central (part of Volunteering Otago up in Central Otago) had a similar experience at the end of last year with the potential floods in Wanaka. Gillian White in Wanaka, and Kirsty Miles in Queenstown, our two exceptional and competent team members in Central, dealt with over 400 enquiries in just a few days. Gillian in particular worked closesly with Civil Defence, and showed the community the awesome level of engagement that people had and how much they wanted to help.

With health and safety laws for volunteers changing and becoming more strict in how we support them, spontaneous volunteers needs a rethink so that we can make sure that everyone is safe and well supported. It can be done – as shown beautifully by Gillian in Central Otago – but we, as managers of volunteers, need to advocate for these wonderful people wanting to help. “We can’t all jump in a lake to rescue the drowning person, but some of us can throw the rope out to help them both in”. Keeping this in perspective while in the midst of an emergency takes some serious courage.

February has seen Volunteering Otago hold its first Leaders of Volunteers in Dunedin in over 2 years, with 9 more planned for the rest of the year. We saw the launch of our Migration Volunteering Programme, with our dedicated intern, Casey Lochead at the helm. We’ve been on Otago Access Radio, and in the newspaper twice! We held our first event in Dunedin at Thieves Alley, where we had over 50 people sign up interested in being volunteers and had their photo snapped with our new frame. We even made our way to Oāmaru, and introduced our love and support for the Waitaki district. Over 25 organisations were present, and it was heartening to see such much good work in the community already.

March is coming up soon! How time flies when you’re having fun! Our next Leaders of Volunteers is on March 17th. Our two migrant workshops are on the 24th and 26th of March. We’ll have stalls in the Meridian, Centre City New World and the Farmers Market – all advertising our migrant workshops. We’re even at the Womens Lifestyle Expo on the 28th and 29th of March. We’ll be having a giveaway for free tickets soon! Don’t forget about Race Relations week, Student Volunteering Week and my favourite – Mud, Sweat and Tears! We look forward to seeing you all this coming month!

Aroha mai, aroha atu. Nga mihi nui!

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