National Volunteer Week is a chance to acknowledge those who take time out of their lives to help their communities and the people within them who may be struggling. Many partners of Rethink Addiction rely on the support of volunteers and are extremely grateful for their help.
This year's theme for Volunteer Week is The Change Makers. In the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector, volunteers play an instrumental role in helping change the lives of those living with addiction.
Rethink Addiction Partner, Odyssey House, has a number of volunteers who assist people at different stages of their recovery.
Filling in the gaps
Carmel volunteers as a Leavers Mentor at Odyssey House, which means she helps those leaving rehab adjust to the outside world.
“It is a really tricky time for people leaving rehab. They leave a safe environment and rejoin the community where they often have to reinvent themselves or form new support networks,” Carmel said.
“We help them make that transition from rehab to the community through guidance and friendship. We try to have as much face-to-face contact with them once they leave Odyssey so we (volunteers) often meet up for coffees or go for walks with our mentees which provides them an opportunity to talk through any challenges they are going through.”
Carmel also works as a clinical coordinator at headspace and privately, as a psychotherapist but still finds time to volunteer.
“I think volunteers help fill those gaps. Sometimes places are understaffed and under-resourced, so having volunteers provides that extra help.”
“I also feel like I am in a position of privilege in comparison to some people in my community, so I feel like I have a responsibility to support others.”
Ever since she was 19 Carmel has tried to find time to volunteer. She has volunteered at a community corrections centre, her local council and has even been a foster parent.
While she has enjoyed all her volunteering roles, Carmel is drawn to Odyssey House not only because she is helping people, but she is also able to contribute to the deconstruction of stigma around addiction.
“Not as many people put their hands up to help people with addiction. Compared to areas like foster care or helping cancer patients, which people find easier to be sympathetic towards,” Carmel said.
“However, there is still a lot of judgement and stigma towards people who use drugs or alcohol. That sense of volunteering and wanting to help is lower, because people think those who struggle with drug and alcohol use are doing something wrong.”
“It is important that people who are accessing treatment for their substance use are granted the same level of understanding and empathy as people facing other challenges.”
Change someone's life
Ray and Judi have been Literacy volunteers at Odyssey House since 2015, making them the longest serving volunteers at the organisation.
Both of them say the work they do at Odyssey House is challenging but rewarding.
“It is a lot harder working out programs for individuals, all of whom are at different levels. Some need more time learning maths, some need to learn how to write. But watching their progress is such a great thing to witness,” Ray said.
“Just seeing the joy on people’s faces when you tell them everything they have done is correct. It is just as much joy for me as it is for them,” Judi said.
Both Ray and Judi go into Odyssey House once a week and run one hour sessions for those who want some tutoring.
“Not everyone is willing to put themselves out there and admit they cannot communicate well or do basic maths,” Judi said.
As well as teaching basic maths and English, Ray and Judi try to build rapport with their students and work with them to achieve their goals.
“When we first meet with our students the first thing we ask is what they want to get out of the program. My role is to encourage people to learn and make sure they understand what I am teaching them,” Judi said.
“As well as coming from an educational background, I also have some counselling experience and I find that helps students open up to me more. You become a friend to them and they feel comfortable telling you about things they are struggling with in their life before getting onto lessons,” Ray said.
“Sometimes Judi and I will have lunch with our students, which is not only another great opportunity to get to know them, but other people see you in the house and might be interested in approaching you for lessons.”
Ray and Judi both say that volunteering at Odyssey House has allowed them to form close connections with students and prepare them for life outside of rehab.
“The joy we see in others' learning is immeasurable. I remember one girl invited me to her graduation because she said I was the biggest part of her life for 12 months,” Judi said.
“What they learn at Odyssey House gives them inspiration to know that once they leave they will be able to do the things they want, like apply for a job, or use excel, or manage money, and that is why Judi and I keep coming back here to help.”