Lindsay McWha is the first Patron of the University's Volunteers Committee. Here she tells Lumen about her advocacy for volunteering and volunteers' rights, and maintains that volunteering should be about receiving as well as giving.
As the Vice-Chancellor's wife, Lindsay McWha plays an active part in University life and, although she wouldn't say it herself, is a great asset to the VC--attending celebratory occasions and functions, interacting with people from the community and the University in a less formal way, bringing her own quiet charm to the proceedings.
She was particularly pleased, however, to be asked to be Patron of the Volunteers Committee: "In this role I'm participating in the life of the University in my own right, rather than as an appendage."
Volunteering is something Mrs McWha has been interested in for some time. "My previous experience with volunteering has been through my profession as an occupational therapist. Until we came to Adelaide in August 2002 I worked as a clinician. In New Zealand I worked within the community as a consultant occupational therapist helping set up a respite centre. As part of that project I was involved in recruiting, training and supporting volunteers."
She is continuing her volunteering interests in Adelaide, not just as the Patron here but also on the editorial team of the Journal of Occupational Science and with the Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia.
"It's a good way to learn more about the community, meet more people, find out how the place works, just getting involved."
There is a long history of volunteering at the University of Adelaide in many forms, including: the Florey Medical Research Fund; the Barr Smith Library Volunteer Group; the Alumni chapters; the national award-winning Radio Adelaide, which has hundreds of volunteers; groups at the Waite, and many others.
"There are people who have been volunteering with the University for many years," says Mrs McWha. "Many are alumni; they enjoyed their time at the University and want to continue to be involved.
"It's important, however, that people know about volunteers' rights and rewards. The rewards for volunteering should be very visible. Rather than people just being asked to give, we should look at what volunteers can gain by volunteering."
There are real benefits for volunteers, Mrs McWha says. There's the `feel good' factor; the knowledge you are helping the community; and the very valid benefit of gaining work experience. And from the University point of view, volunteers make an enormous contribution.
Another important factor in formalising volunteering at the University was recognising the rights of volunteers. There are now clear policies in line with Volunteering Australia's national standards.
"Insurance was an area which needed to be clarified. There is also now information and guidelines about the support available and possible training, and there are formal position descriptions."
Lindsay McWha finds it very rewarding. "At Roseworthy last year as part of the Centenary Celebrations, Archives wanted to mount an exhibition. There were lots of photographs but they weren't annotated. A number of Roseworthy Old Collegians volunteered to help with this.
"Using their skills and knowledge helped this group feel part of the University. And now there's new involvement with the Roseworthy museum, so the whole project is gathering momentum."
The important thing about volunteering is to match people and their skills with the work on offer and in areas where they think they can help.
"For instance, at the Waite, volunteers are tour guides of Urrbrae House and the Historic Precinct. Others help plant native trees and clear feral olive trees, work in the arboretum and with TREENET--there is a range of tasks to choose from so that people can find an area appropriate for them. There is a whole team of people working in the rose garden and they get such joy from doing it. I think that's really valuable. Work doesn't have to be paid but volunteers must enjoy it." ■
Story Robyn Mills
For further information on Volunteering at the University of Adelaide visit www.adelaide.edu.au/volunteers