Jackie Horton spent 24 incredibly interesting years, mostly in management, with the RSPCA, and noted the lows were devastating and the highs euphoric. Days when staff and volunteers shared uncontrollable tears and anguish upon incomprehensible shameful acts of cruelty, and the next embracing in moments of kindness and achievement.
In other words, she has been on the front line of managing and working alongside volunteers, and now as the newly-appointed Regional Coordinator for Client Services on the Fleurieu Peninsula for Southern Volunteering her biggest problem is fitting her title on business cards. The idea of having it planted on the timber door of her office at the Old School House on Torrens Street, Victor Harbor understandably was never considered.
Jackie welcomes the light-hearted notion because she always thinks of the high degree of positiveness and fun times that volunteering predominantly offers. Yet, according to Jackie, of Blewitt Springs, as much as their work embraces a gamut of roles and explores one’s extreme range of emotional boundaries, volunteers share the same basic characteristic; they do not necessarily have more strength or the time than those who do not, they just have the heart.
And if you thought this volunteering world was already huge, it just got bigger following a United Nations private sector forum in September which recognised business leaders and companies as volunteers if they made commitments and pledged partnerships leading to sustainable development.
Peaceful activists seeking beneficial outcomes are also now classified as volunteers, and Jackie reminds us the mums helping in the school canteens and those who run the lines at the junior soccer matches or teach the kids at tennis Hot Shots coaching sessions are also part of this wonderful global phenomena.
The immediate challenge – in all of her 13 hours a week job – is to reach out to host organisations that can benefit from a united approach and become the go-to host for those on the Fleurieu Peninsula who would like to volunteer.
According to Jackie, many people do not understand the concept of volunteering. “It’s not a case of having to get up and do X-amount of hours at a charity, per-se,” she said. “I would suggest the number of volunteers in this region is a lot higher than what recorded figures suggest. It just varies so much.
“We have those in aged care, for example, and in as much as it brings an enormous sense of satisfaction there can also be overwhelming heartache because they befriend so many.
“There will always be some apathy towards volunteering. ‘It’s for other people, they say’ but I personally believe as a general rule a lot of people new to this don’t recognise how big volunteering is, how many roles are conducted by volunteers, and how many programs are operational because of volunteers.
“People’s circumstances often change, and therefore they look into volunteering. It may be may be a Centrelink obligation, and they are often surprised at the diversity of the volunteering program initiatives.
“You will always get a percentage of people who won’t do it, can’t do it, not interested, but thank goodness we have a very good percentage of people who don’t feel that way.
“You often collectively get a group of people who end up in that volunteer position because they have an interest in what they are doing. It might be the elderly or animals or whatever, so when they are in a group of volunteers they may not have anything in common with anyone in that room or know anything about anyone else other than that level of volunteering.
“At the RSPCA, friendships were formed and these teams developed and worked well; they worked on one level. Their backgrounds were irrelevant, and without that connection they would never have linked as friends.”
Jackie firmly supports the theory that if you come to this region by yourself and you are of well-being, there is no reason why you should feel totally isolated because of the opportunities to meet people or communicate through volunteering.
“Volunteering is the link of our society,” she said. “Some people who are interested in volunteering come into our office and do not know what they would like to do, so we ask about their background or interests or their passion. We help them explore their options.
“One of the reasons people become a volunteer is that they are battling loneliness. More and more people are those who have a Centrelink obligation to volunteer. Many are middle-aged who have left their employment for various reasons and are too young to claim a pension and have an obligation to do a minimal number of hours per week.
“While they have an obligation, a vast majority are only to happy to do the volunteering because when they are of that age Centrelink is not necessarily pushing them into another job; it becomes an attractive and satisfying choice. Volunteering becomes a crucial part of their mental well-being.
“A lot of people are struggling with mental illness in various forms, and put up their hands up for volunteering because they are seeking to have some structure, responsibility and to meet new friends; all of these things. I genuinely admire those with the ability to be able to show that courage to try and confront their challenge.”
In an ideal world people like Jackie would be working more than 13 hours a week; there would be a team of coordinators and alike. But we don’t live in an ideal world. She has already found her new role personally satisfying and rewarding, and works far beyond the call of duty to make a difference in this volunteering world.
“The terminology I use in this job is that I find a person’s right seat on the bus,” Jackie said. “Some people get on the bus and are destined to drive it, and others just want to sit in the back row and don’t want to be noticed. That is fine. It is my role to find them an appropriate role in volunteering, or their most comfortable seat.”
If you would like to get on the bus and experience a trip of a lifetime picking up people willing to share their kindness along the way, the Southern Volunteering office is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-1pm. As we said, few of the passengers have the time, just the heart.