Young volunteers on the rise

Katherine Fleming
Melusha Robson, a 26-year-old law student, volunteers her time to the SES in its communications unit. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Young West Australians are taking up volunteering in droves, driving a jump of more than 80 per cent in the number of tertiary students Volunteering WA refers to positions.

The organisation reported a big increase in students aged 18 to 25 from 3855 in 2012-13 to 7038 last financial year, as well as growth of more than 50 per cent in referrals of high school students, up from 683 to 1042.

Chief executive Mara Basanovic said the figures represented only young people seen by Volunteering WA, meaning total numbers would be "far, far greater".

"Volunteering is growing overall and we certainly have a volunteering culture in WA," Ms Basanovic said.

"But it has changed in many ways and in the past few years, volunteering among young people has really risen sharply.

"They are really keen to make a difference and contribute their own wishes for how they want our society to be."

Ms Basanovic said many were attracted to diverse, one-off volunteering stints, where they could go with friends and dedicate time to an event or cause.

Virtual volunteering, such as phoning vulnerable people to check on them or online mentoring, was also a growth area.

For law student Melusha Robson, 26, it was seeing orange-clad volunteers on the news in the aftermath of the 2010 Carnarvon floods that sparked her interest.

She made inquiries and is now trained as an operator in the specialist communications unit of the State Emergency Service.

Ms Robson, who moved to Australia from India eight years ago, said the other volunteers had become her surrogate family in WA. "They are amazing people who I would never have met otherwise," she said. The work - ensuring emergency services can communicate in situations such as bushfires and storms - was intense but very rewarding.

It was also flexible enough to fit in around her work and study commitments.

"We are not out there physically fighting the fire but while the firefighters are doing such an important job, in our own small way, we do ours," she said.

Volunteering Australia chief executive Brett Williamson said the recent world conference on volunteering found traditional models needed to change.

"The key message was that, just as our society and our way of life is shifting and evolving, so does the way people want to volunteer," he said.

"It is a matter of making sure we cater for the younger generation, so they can continue the fantastic work of their parents and grandparents."

Volunteers wanted flexibility and were also increasingly interested in volunteering through their employers and contributing their specialised skills, such as writing a business plan or building a website.

They are amazing people who I would never have met otherwise." Melusha Robson on her fellow SES volunteers