Volunteers are our local heroes

Riding for the Disabled is just one of many voluntary groups in the Waitaki district. "Almost...
Riding for the Disabled is just one of many voluntary groups in the Waitaki district. "Almost everywhere we look, there are people helping other people, because they care," Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher says. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES
This week is National Volunteer Week, and it is an opportunity for us to reflect on how important volunteers are to our community. If you give your time and your skills to make life better for others, to make our place a better place to live, or to improve others’ lives, then this is for you.

When we look around our community, there are so many people who give their time to help others. They often fill important gaps that aren’t covered by central or local government, or by the private sector. Those people do not do it for financial reward, for self-interest or recognition — our volunteers are our local heroes.

Think about where we would be without our numerous youth groups such as St John Cadets and scouts, our service groups like Lions and Rotary, our volunteers helping out at our rest homes, our tree-planting catchment groups, our foodbank volunteers ... Almost everywhere we look, there are people helping other people, because they care.

As part of my role, I am very fortunate to be associated with a number of volunteer organisations. My extended family had a long association with St John, and I am patron of the North Otago A&P Association, North Otago Riding for the Disabled, the Oamaru Tree Planting Society and the Oamaru Performing Arts Society. All of them run by volunteers and all of them making Waitaki a better place to be. I am proud to be their patron because they add so much to our district. And they are just the tip of the volunteer effort!

Let’s look at one example of dedication and commitment. In the past couple of years, I have been honoured to attend a good number of Oamaru Volunteer Fire Brigade awards evenings. Four of those events have had the highlight of honouring four volunteers who have served their communities for 50 years! That is 50 years of turning out for frequent training sessions, numerous meetings, to attend fires, and as first responders to vehicle accidents. Their contribution is huge and the cost to their personal lives is significant — the time they cannot spend with their families, the time they need to take off work, and the many hours of missed sleep when they get called out at all hours.

I mentioned youth groups earlier. Again, there is a lot of sacrifice by people to help our young people learn new skills and to keep them busy, safe, and as is needed in some cases, out of trouble. Add to them the many people involved in sports — coaches, managers, sport administrators, referees and so on. A whole system set up to help our youth, as well as some of our not so young people.

To all our volunteers, this week is your week. This is the week that we publicly say to you, "thank you!"

And I hope that people are saying thank you during the other 51 weeks of the year, too. Our place is definitely richer for what you bring to it, for the time you give to others. And to all of us who benefit from the volunteerism of others, please take the time to thank them.

After all, our volunteers are the oil that makes our society go more smoothly.