Rescue Helicopter Service needs more volunteers to be able to continue

National Volunteer Week kicked off from May 17 with the theme, Recognise, Reconnect and Reimagine, something that the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service acknowledges is of vital importance in the wake of COVID and other challenges that communities and volunteers have endured such as drought, bushfires and most recently flooding.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service CEO, Richard Jones OAM acknowledges that 2020 was a heartbreaking year for the Service’s hundreds of loyal and dedicated volunteers.

“For many of our older volunteers, their groups provided not only an immensely rewarding opportunity to support the Service in their local community but also the vital social interaction they needed to remain active and engaged within society.

“In a COVID world, this was taken away from them and we know that loss of social networks and engagement can lead to health problems such as depression and loss of a sense of self-worth.

“For this reason, Volunteer Week this year for us is about recognising the challenges faced by our volunteers through 2020, reconnecting with them and reimagining their roles, ensuring that they feel valued and acknowledging the vital roles that our Volunteers play,” Jones said.

On the Coast, there are under 10 volunteers for the organisation, a figure that Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service’s Community Liaison Officer for the Central Coast, Shannon O’Hagan, wants to see grow in the future.

“There are not nearly enough volunteers here on the Coast.

“To join as a volunteer, all you need to do is call me and we’ll have a chat about what you’re willing to do and after that it’s really quite flexible,” O’Hagan said.

Primarily, volunteers will be helping out with distributing and collecting money tins from local businesses and helping out at fundraising events, both tasks that O’Hagan says are very flexible.

“It’s entirely up to our volunteers how much time they spend helping out, you might spend a couple hours putting tins around at local businesses, and you might not need to touch them again for 3-6 months.

“Volunteering doesn’t have to be a regime and with us, there is more flexibility.

“There is no expectation for anyone to do set hours each week.

“Our volunteers love it, we offer so many opportunities for them,” O’Hagan said.

Pre COVID, there were over 1,000 people throughout Northern NSW who proudly wore the red shirt as part of 37 Volunteer Support Groups, generously giving their time to raise awareness and funds, helping to ensure that the Service remained on standby 24/7 for those most in need.

COVID restrictions significantly impacted the activities of these volunteers but as restrictions continue to ease, the Service is actively recognising, reconnecting and reimagining their roles in a post COVID world.

“Since 1975, our generous volunteers have been fundamental in helping to ensure that the Westpac Rescue Helicopter continues to fly for those in need,” O’Hagan said..

“They make an immense contribution to the Service every day.

“The theme for National Volunteer Week is about reuniting these groups and providing them with a fresh outlook, reinvigorating their enthusiasm for the vital role they play and welcoming them back.

“On behalf of our staff, the Board and Regional Advisory Committees, I would like to say thank you to every person who has, or continue to, volunteer for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, especially in the wake of the challenges faced during 2020,” said Jones.

“Providing a vital emergency service for our community would not be possible without the generous support of volunteers who dedicate their time at local events, shopping centres, op shops, cooking up a storm at sporting grounds and hardware stores, running raffles, collecting donation tins and providing their professional expertise and time free of charge.”

Harry Mulholland