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Volunteers – what would we do without them?

Last week was volunteer week. On Friday, June 21, 2024, the community board members and councillors from the Thames Coromandel District Council invited all volunteers from Mercury Bay and surrounding areas to a special lunch to celebrate and express gratitude to those who volunteered their time, services, and resources to help make our community a better place.
 |  Verna Carr  | 

Community leaders and hosts of Honouring Volunteers Day – Peter McKenzie and Caroline Hobman (Community Board members), Rekha Giri-Percival (TCD Councillor), Bess Kingi (Community Board member), Helena Stratford (TCDC Area Administrator), Leith Jackson (Westpac Rescue Helicopter Hangar), Deli Connell (TCD Councillor), John Grant (TCD Councillor), Heather Bruce (TCDC Manager), Sheryll Fitzpatrick (TCDC Social Navigator).

The lunch was held at the Westpac Trust Rescue Helicopter Hangar on Moewai Road.

The event was opened with a Karakia led by councillor Deli Connell; lunch was served; and afterwards, councillor Rekha Giri-Percival gave a short speech about the value and contribution of volunteers in our community.

John Stevenson, chairman of the Coromandel Helicopter Rescue Trust, spoke about the generosity and community funds that enable Whitianga to have a rescue helicopter service during the busy summer season.

Fran Biess from Bellyfull talked with love and sincerity about the 20–25 volunteers who regularly cook and deliver meals to people in need and/or to new mothers who are struggling to cope with their new reality.

Robyn, a volunteer, was awarded her apron, following the custom of a year of service. Even though Bellyfull does most of its own fund-raising, Fran also mentioned the generous sponsors and food donors that make this possible.

Sheryll FitzPatrick, the social navigator from TCDC, acknowledged the dedication and resilience of the volunteers that helped the Whitianga and surrounding communities get back on their feet when we had three major weather events in 2023.

Andrea Whitehead and two cadets, Geordie Wilson and Roman Carley, representing the Coastal Restoration Trust, showed the trophy they received, a national award for the work they had done weeding, planting, and restoring the Kuaotunu sand dunes.

The people around me gave me some interesting feedback and perspectives from people who volunteer their time and energy to help others.

When I asked ‘why’ they do this, regardless of what they are doing, their answers were mostly the same: they liked helping people, they felt that they were making a difference by giving something back, a sense of connection to others in the community, sharing knowledge, skills, and experience, making new friends, it felt good for their own physical and mental health and wellbeing, and to improve how things work for the better.

Nigel Strongman from Coromandel, who is on the board of trustees for the Rescue Helicopter and has been volunteering with various organisations, including St. John and the Lions, says, “He came from a family that has always served the town they live in, and he gets a lot of satisfaction from helping people.”.

Corroll De Pape, a volunteer from the Hahei library, enjoys reading and wants to encourage young people to read. Lorne De Pape and Robyn Dalzell organise the Hahei markets to raise funds for the library, volunteer fire brigade St. Johns, Surf Life Saving, and other community groups in Hahei.

Lorne also does weed and pest control and helps with planting to beautify the area; he says, “He likes the sense of accomplishment of a job well done.”.

Ana Cross’s love of the outdoors, nature, and the beach led her to go dune planting, even on cold, windy days. She understands how important dune planting is; it helps save the environment from erosion and storm damage.

Ana also volunteers at the Coghill Social Services Op Shop where she meets so many lovely customers and interesting people.

She is pleased that the money raised goes to support families and worthwhile community projects.

Julie Johnstone and her friends Gaynor LawRance and PatuHakaria are amazing. Julie uses her own money and resources to give people food parcels and warm clothing. She advertises for items like clothing and furniture that people want to give away.

Patu and his friend Kerry Rhoades go and pick it up, and then it gets re-distributed to families and elders in need.

Julie says, “There are people in the community who have nothing and are suffering.”

Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together; they want to be part of a thriving, caring community. They see their volunteer work and services as an investment in the future and the continuation of that community. The community is a place where people are born, live, raise their kids, and work; this is the place they call home. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, the environment, and organisations in need.

Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together.

Thank you, volunteers. What would we do without you?