Several years ago I applied for a job with Guide Dogs SA/NT. As I prepared for the interview I was surprised to discover how heavily they relied on volunteers and the extent of the services they provided with minimal funding. I was so impressed by the organisation that although I wasn’t offered the job, I volunteered as a short term boarder of guide dog puppies instead.
While I like to think my desire to become involved in volunteering was somewhat altruistic, I soon discovered the personal benefits. I met interesting people, some of whom were also volunteers and others who were hearing or vision-impaired clients. I gained huge respect as I learned how challenging everyday tasks could be for them. That knowledge helped put my own troubles into perspective – perhaps it was hard raising kids on my own but at least I could see and hear them! On the lighter side, working with those amazing puppies was fun. My children adored them but being short term boarders meant we didn’t have to worry about becoming too attached.
Training our guide dog puppies
We were taught how to train them, which mostly consisted of taking them wherever we went so as to expose them to everyday situations they would one day encounter as working guide dogs. I could see my children were proud of what we were doing and became confident and willing to chat about it to anyone who stopped to ask. That happened often, especially in the supermarket and at school. Watching them made me wonder if the puppies might be teaching us as much as we were teaching them!
Research says early exposure to volunteering fosters a lifelong volunteering culture and that the benefits to children being involved are substantial. They include learning work and life skills, developing empathy, enhanced feelings of personal worth and, in relation to school-based volunteering opportunities, making schooling more meaningful. In my experience, that research is true.
The inspiration that keeps me going
My experience also led me to meet the Chairman of the Board of Guide Dogs SA.NT, Joe Thorp. As the managing director of a large company and the father of three young children, I was amazed Joe finds time to volunteer for three organisations. He attributes that to his upbringing.
‘Volunteering has been a part of my life since my earliest memories. My father helped build the local kindergarten in the outer suburbs where I grew up. My mother became a Girl Guide leader. My grandmother was instrumental in establishing the Quaker Shop on Kensington Road and I remember driving around with her emptying the collection bins, sorting, cleaning, pricing and displaying stock. My mother went on to have an extensive volunteering career with the Leukaemia Foundation and when my father retired he volunteered with Meals on Wheels. With that background it was natural I would find volunteering to be a normal way of life,’ says Joe.
Joe is passionate about the benefits of volunteering. ‘Volunteering has a significant impact on the economic and social fabric of our community. It provides opportunities for social interaction and it helps bring meaning to people’s lives,’ he says.
With a family history so rich in volunteering, it is likely Joe’s children will become volunteers. I expect mine will too. I can already see a compassionate side to both of them and I’m proud of their readiness to help others.
Years ago, when I put my hand up to volunteer with Guide Dogs SA.NT, it seems I may have been the one who was vision impaired, because it took a while for me to see what a good thing I was doing for my children and for future generations.
Find out how you can help your community for National Student Volunteer Week.