You’d think that Mornington Peninsula business manager, writer and mother Carolyn Nicholson might not have time to volunteer for three different programs, but she says otherwise. “None of these things I do take a huge amount of time, but it makes such a significant impact on the lives of others,” Carolyn says.
The Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority where Carolyn works offers professional development plans every year. While Carolyn was struggling to identify an opportunity, her boss asked, “why don’t you think a bit outside the square? What would keep you motivated?”
“I had a think about it,” Carolyn says, “and I said, “I really love volunteering”. So he said, “why don’t you do use that professional development time for volunteering?””
Carolyn is a family volunteer with OzChild, a Pyjama Angel for foster kids with The Pyjama Foundation and runs a breakfast club at a local school with her 11-year-old son.
Carolyn came across OzChild via her Pyjama Angel buddy’s caseworker who works for OzChild, and a recommendation through Impact Volunteering.
Coincidentally, she realised that her office was in the same building as OzChild’s Frankston office. “It was all falling into place,” laughs Carolyn.
Carolyn signed up and went along to OzChild’s volunteer training course. “The process to become a volunteer is quite detailed and it was quite intensive, but I felt comfortable that OzChild were looking for the right people,” Carolyn says.
OzChild matched Carolyn up to a family and “the lovely Moira”, OzChild’s volunteer coordinator. “She’s been fabulous,” Carolyn says. “I worked with her to figure out what would be a good match for me and she was never rushed. She was always happy to sit and talk through whatever I wanted to talk through. She took me to my first meet and greet with my client. It was great and she gave me a debrief session afterwards.”
Carolyn’s first client was a family in crisis who were struggling to care for their young children.
Carolyn set to work building a relationship with the family by visiting their home and getting to know them. Then she was able to help them set goals. “We talked about what success would look like, and what they want to get out of the volunteering relationship,” Carolyn says. “We spent time breaking down the situation and identifying where they needed help. We’d talk about the realities of day-to-day. We’d find ways that they could be able to spend time with their children. Then I could go to Moira, who would search for available for the family.”
Carolyn has seen positive changes in the family over the last seven months that she’s known them. “They’ve got a lot of support in place now,” Carolyn says. “They’re more comfortable talking to me and we have a strong relationships. We’re building up their resilience and ability to be a more active and involved parents.”
Carolyn volunteers specifically with kids and families. “I was looking for ways to be able to use my energy to help kids in need. I also wanted to feel more connected with my community and to better understand some of the challenges that families face.”
Carolyn is also a Pyjama Angel for a girl in foster care. Pyjama Angels visit a family once a week to help foster kids with their reading and homework, and Carolyn says it’s been a rewarding experience. “The first time she came home with a gold star on her homework, we both cried,” Carolyn says. “She used to not read a word – now she sits and reads a whole book with me.”
Carolyn has even gotten her son involved with volunteering at a school. “I wanted to teach my son the same. We’re not rich but we’re not doing it tough, and I wanted him to understand that the world is complicated. Some families have challenges and not all kids have the same upbringing.”
Even though we’ve all got busy lives, Carolyn hopes she can encourage everyone to try volunteering. “If you do that instead of watching telly, you can find an hour a week,” Carolyn says. “There’s so many families and schools that need the support.”