Supported volunteering co-ordinator Claire van Loon Sim
helps Otago residents with mental health issues engage with
the community through volunteer work. Photo by Peter
A volunteering Otago referral service is helping Otago
residents recover from mental health issues.
Supported volunteering co-ordinator Claire van Loon Sim (47)
said she started working for Volunteering Otago last month.
She replaced Glenys Geytenbeek, who retired after working at
the referral service since its inception 18 years ago, she
She provided the additional support so people with mental
health issues could experience volunteering, she said.
The service was referral-based and agencies such as
occupational therapists and doctors referred clients ''if
they think that volunteering is something that would help
support their road to recovery'', Mrs van Loon Sim said.
Volunteering offered clients a ''healthy engagement'' with
the community, she said.
The volunteers gained confidence and enabled them to move
into more socially appropriate situations, she said.
Social isolation was a huge issue with mental health issues
and new technology had increased referrals, she said.
''The advancement of technology had supported that social
isolation. People can work from home, on their computers and
cellphones and they don't have to get out and mix in a work
environment ... so volunteering provides people with an
opportunity to engage with other people socially and in
The volunteer programmes ranged from street appeals - ''a
once-a-year thing'' - to working in an opportunity shop,
which required more of a time commitment, she said.
Forty-seven people, aged between 18 and 70, were registered
on the programme.
''We are looking for more referrals and looking for new
volunteer opportunities from organisations that use
Feedback from past referrals had been positive, she said.
''Several people have said that it has been pivotal to their
recovery and their return to being productive in the
The service covered the Otago region but there were long-term
plans to expand nationwide, she said.
''That's the big dream.''