Volunteering seen as its own reward

Alexandra woman Jan Pessione’s volunteer work includes helping Living Options, the Central Otago...
Alexandra woman Jan Pessione’s volunteer work includes helping Living Options, the Central Otago Friendship Network and Central Otago Compassionate Friends. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Jan Pessione’s hard work and humility have been recognised in a national award that honours her volunteering and compassion. She talks to Pam Jones about the value of volunteering and the causes she supports.

"I've gained so much more than I've ever given."

Those are the words of Jan Pessione, who won the Health Care Provider Service Individual Award at the 2019 Minister of Health Volunteer Awards last week.

The Alexandra woman's focus remains squarely on those she helps.

This week she accepted the resulting publicity only to provide recognition for the groups she supports, and she only agreed to accept it in the first place to inspire others, especially the younger generation.

She was presented the accolade by Health Minister David Clark at a ceremony in the Grand Hall at Parliament during national Volunteer Week.

The citation praised Mrs Pessione's work with Living Options, in Alexandra, but Mrs Pessione also volunteers extensively with the Central Otago Friendship Network and Central Otago Compassionate Friends, both of which she established.

Living Options chief executive Alison Wildey said the work Mrs Pessione did was invaluable.

"She touches the lives of so many people and does it in a very unassuming manner, wanting no recognition or thanks. We are very grateful to have her [as] a part of our organisation. Jan instinctively knows when someone needs a little bit extra in their life."

Mrs Pessione has volunteered at Living Options for about 19 years, and still helps there for between six and seven hours a week.

The facility is part of the New Zealand Disability Support Network and provides a comprehensive service in Central Otago.

Her award citation said Mrs Pessione provided friendship support, took people on outings, "makes birthday cakes, takes people to Living Options' weekly training cafe so they can practise their cafe skills, and as floral artist she brings in fresh flowers each week. She trains staff in sign language and goes to people's homes to give them a hand with their gardening".

Mrs Pessione praised Living Options and its leadership, saying she believed the facility was one of the best of its type in the country, and should be used as a model throughout the rest of New Zealand.

She said volunteering was its own reward, and she was committed to two other key organisations, both of which she established about 28 years ago and for which she still volunteers.

The Central Otago Friendship Network provides companionship for those who may be isolated or lonely, and Central Otago Compassionate Friends provides support for families who have experienced bereavement.

Friendship network co-ordinator Gaye McCaughan said Mrs Pessione was "the glue that has brought us all together" and worked tirelessly for the organisation.

Mrs Pessione said shehoped publicity about her health award would encourage more people to volunteer for the friendship network. Volunteer drivers to take people to the network's weekly group cafe outings and volunteers for one-on-one visits with people in their homes were especially needed.

She also encouraged those who had been affected by grief and could be provided with more support to get in touch to find out about the compassionate friends group.

She said other than her family, the groups she set up and still supported were what she was most proud of in her life.

"Most people who volunteer say that's the way they feel . . . These are the things that will give me on my deathbed, I think, satisfaction, to think over the 28 years we've [the friendship network and compassionate friends group] helped a few people along the way."


Other southern recipients at the 2019 Minister of Health Volunteer Awards were: Silverline Otago, a student-led and focused mental health and wellbeing initiative at the University of Otago, which was the joint winner of the Youth Health Volunteer Team Award; and the Invercargill St John Health Shuttle Team, which was a runner-up in the Community or NGO Health Service Team Awards category.

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