Volunteers – the Backbone of our Community
The community of the Blue Mountains has proved itself amazingly resilient and has come together particularly in the last six months to support each other, especially those affected by the October 2013 bushfires. Volunteers have done, and continue to do, some amazing work to support our recovery. The Community Renewal Project would like to acknowledge some of the extraordinary work done by individuals and groups in the community.
Featured here are only some of the people and groups who have been tirelessly working away, often behind the scenes and often unrecognised. We know that there are hundreds more people who have ‘gone the extra mile’ to help others, often facing their own adversity and give our thanks to those who are not included here. We know there are volunteers at the Neighbourhood Centres, Scouts and Rovers, our local Churches, quilters and crafters, WIRES and other animal carers, those collecting and donating furniture, growing and distributing plants, working on gardens, organising concerts, family days and fundraisers who have just done amazing things! We know also that there are so many more, we apologise for not being able to include everyone and we thank you all.
We would love to hear your stories and compile a testimonial to these people and groups and would welcome your contributions. You can contact Liz at Springwood Neighbourhood Centre on 4751 3033 or email email@example.com to contribute. We know this is just a starting point!
The work in our community’s recovery will continue for some time. Community organisations across the Mountains welcome volunteers and couldn’t function without them. If you can find even a couple of hours a week to help out, please call your local Neighbourhood Centre, Red Cross, Church, or Service Club. If you are not sure where to start, please call 4751 3033 and we can help. You can also contact us to add someone else you know.
Thank you to the following extraordinary people and groups on behalf of our community. You are amazing!
A local retired nurse and grandmother, takes it upon herself to be a bit of a Florence Nightingale in the mountains quietly supporting young families and the ill. She suggested the Springwood area needed something to boost morale after the fires. She offered her time freely to coordinate and promote the movie nights and school holiday activities organised in the Catholic grounds at Springwood. She does so much for so many people despite not having full health herself.
Margaret is a volunteer with Vinnies, and like Cheryl has raised her family in the Blue Mountains. She ran around town supporting people with supplies and counselling them in the aftermath of the fires but also helped coordinate the movie nights, welcoming families like they were guests in her home.
Yvonne and Warwick Harrison
These two have been another outstanding pair of volunteers supporting the Winmalee Kids Holiday Program, making sure the children and the team have a good time. Yvonne is a nurse and has brought an added dimension to the program by making sure children are well cared for and able to participate to the best of their abilities. She works tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to make sure everything is prepared and available when needed. Warwick has been doing lots of the running around and delivering equipment to the site. He has run some of the games and has helped cook the bbq lunch. Wherever there is fun, you will find Warwick at the heart of it.
Part of the Lions Club, he has kindly been responsible for getting the BBQ trailer to the school hall at Winmalee for the Kids Holiday Program and has often cooked the sausages for the lunch as well. Then at the end of the Program, he packs it all up, takes it away and cleans it. His volunteering has been a great support to the team. Gill Parslow and James Coombs have helped with the BBQ for lunch and keep the team rolling along together. Lorraine White, Beverley Brown, Mark and Sean McLoughlin, Keith Small, Malcolm Hewitt; Paul Colbran, Andrew Grant, Len Butler; Bill Clague, Gerry Taylor and Graham Noble. Barbara Brown, Norman McDonald, Peg Taylor, David Freeston, Heather and Sherrin Phillips, Jenny Hyndes, and Lorna Steele have also been invaluable.
A retired teacher who has given up her time and energy to assist in the leadership of the Kids Holiday Program at Winmalee. Lynne has spent hours organizing the children as they have participated in crafts, sat and read to those children who needed a bit of ‘quiet space’, and encouraged and supported the children and the team.
She has worked with Lynne behind the scenes in preparation for the Kids Holiday Program at Winmalee as well as attending each day of the Program. She has prepared crafts and games, run errands, set up and packed away. Natalie has joined in the fun and shown a willingness to help children enjoy themselves.
Australian Red Cross
Their bushfire response was a true team effort. Twenty-seven of 195 Red Cross volunteers called into action during the emergency were Blue Mountains residents. The team worked tirelessly putting in hour longs at evacuation centres registering people and providing personal support – which involves offering care and comfort for affected residents. For seven weeks following the fires the team also assisted at the recovery centre. As well the Blue Mountains volunteers, along with Red Cross staff and volunteers called in from other parts of NSW, visited close to 6,000 homes to check on residents and provide information and resources to help them recover. Red Cross, which works working closely with other agencies and service providers, assists people and communities prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies all over Australia.
Sue is an Australian Red Cross’ Emergency Services Liaison Officer for the Blue Mountains – its most senior volunteer in the region. She managed the more than two dozen Red Cross volunteers working in the evacuation and recovery centres – some of whom are still involved in its community outreach and recovery program. Sue had to find volunteers at short notice to assist in the Mt Victoria and Blackheath evacuation centres. She is a vital part of Red Cross’ operations, at times putting in 12 to 15 hour shifts, and her presence during and following the bushfires is integral to Red Cross’ work. Sue is also the organisation’s main contact with local emergency service agencies in the Blue Mountains. She has been a Red Cross Personal Support volunteer for more than 15 years and is member of the Local Emergency Management Committee.
As an Australian Red Cross volunteer, she helped at the Springwood Evacuation Centre. She has lived in Winmalee for 38 years and knew many of the people who came to the evacuation centre, and later the recovery centre. She worked shifts at the evacuation centre until it closed, then helped out at the recovery centre. Carolyn, whose own family was evacuated, provided support to those who had been forced to leave their homes. “It might be the smallest thing, just sitting down and talking to them and getting a reaction from them that somebody can help and start off the process of helping them get their lives back together again,” she says. Carolyn has been a Red Cross Emergency Services Volunteer for 13 years.
Another Australian Red Cross volunteer, Jan worked at the Springwood Recovery Centre, and was later involved in community outreach around Mt. Victoria and Winmalee. “My husband and I were on our way back from a caravan trip when we heard about the Winmalee fires. As he is a long time RFS volunteer, we hit the ground running when we arrived home the Saturday after the fire.” Jan, who lives in Blaxland, has been a Red Cross Personal Support volunteer for 15 years. Over that time she has helped support people and communities in times of crisis, such as during floods in Queensland, Moree and Wagga, and during bushfires in Warrimoo.
Jericho Road is an initiative of the Presbyterian Church of NSW. As a small organisation, the aim of Jericho Road is to “fill the gaps” and look for ways to help people in great need. On the Friday after the fires and for the next week, volunteers, including some of our counsellors, walked the streets offering food, water and a shoulder to lean on. Working with the folk of the local Presbyterian churches and others, these volunteers helped to bury family pets, clean homes, move furniture and deliver essentials. They worked on the idea that if someone needed help they would take it to them wherever they were. Over the past months we have provided a number of “boxes” of things aimed to encourage the recipients and let them know that they are still in their thoughts and prayers. These boxes often include letters and cards written by people from all over Australia…there was even one from Western Australia. They also include handmade gifts and food made by folk from the mountains and right across greater Sydney.
Come to Dinner at Winmalee
“Come to Dinner at Winmalee” was born in the first days after the fire. Four freezers in a car port stocked with homemade food were made on a “come and collect” or “we deliver” basis. Over 1300 meals have been provided so far. These have been made by local volunteers, folk from Windsor and St Clair and even someone from Petersham who cooked during the week and delivered on the weekends in the first months after the fires!
Already a strong advocate for our community, Kim visited the Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre on Saturday 19th October to find out how she could support the fire affected community. Kim immediately arranged a delivery of essential toiletries from Avon and began the long process with many other wonderful community members of sorting through the huge amount of clothing, bed linen etc. that had been donated. Kim has seen how devastating the fires have been on the community and has continued to volunteer, now in a management committee capacity.
Shelley James and Fiona Giles-Smith
They have been running a community cooking group for the past year, and do a lot of cooking for the financially disadvantaged. When they heard about the October bush fires they contacted Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre to see if they could help the community by doing what they do best-cook. They arrived at the centre with beautiful home cooked frozen meals which were then quickly distributed to those who had been fire affected. Since then they still support the community at Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre and their wonderful kindness is appreciated.
Sonia rang WNC on Sunday 20th October and asked how she could contribute to assisting the community. Sonia became the conduit between the mountains and Penrith area as people who had lost their houses had to move out of area. Kennards storage at Penrith kindly donated the use of a shed to store furniture and other essential items and Sonia began delivering items to the community in the Penrith LGA. Sonia’s commitment was extraordinary as she was at the shed every day giving out articles and taking on the responsibility of ensuring families were supported.
He began at Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre in 2001 and became an integral part of the team. When the community was devastated by the October bush fires Alec insisted that he help, even though plagued by ill health. Alec volunteered during the weeks ahead and on weekends to ensure that he could support the centre and the community. When donations were received and required storage, Alec made his garage available; this enabled easy access to whatever was required. Alec died in January but his selflessness and support during a very difficult time will never be forgotten.
A member of Winmalee Lions, she has been a great assistance at the Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre. Margaret tirelessly gave out the Lions vouchers every week to ensure the community had resources to enhance their wellbeing.
Beverley Milner and Knit for Charities Inc.
They began delivering hand croched and knitted blankets, berets, shawls, rugs and scarves to Winmalee Neighbourhood Centre in October 2013. These much need pieces have been distributed to those who are fire affected and has been very much appreciated. This initiative continues as Beverley collects the items and brings them to the centre. A big thank you to Beverley and the volunteers who put so much work into the hand work.
Volunteer social media administrators
Administrators for sites such as Blue Mountains Firewatch, Blue Mountains Fire Evacuations Support for Pets, Blue Mountains Fire Recovery, and BM Fire 2013 – Furniture Donations, provided and still continue to provide forums to connect people with information, response organisations and each other. Volunteers often worked these pages in shifts to ensure that accurate and timely information was available to those in need. There were even Facebook events for collecting everything from toiletries to formal dresses.
Michael Jungara Askar
An Aboriginal artist, he and his daughter Carissa have generously supported bushfire appeals, family services, local RFS and schools affected by the October fires, volunteering their time and donating artwork. Like many others, their volunteer support has been a family endeavour.
A long-time volunteer with Springwood Neighbourhood Centre’s Talking Gazette project, Diane has continued her valuable volunteer work to ensure that local vision impaired or print disabled residents still had access to local news even in the face of her own adversity. Diane, who lost her home in the fires, still continued to ensure that the news got through to some of our most vulnerable residents directly after the fires and continuing on today.
Some of the most poignant stories around the fire recovery have been about animals and people and their pets. Volunteer, Letitia Kemister, provided a focal point for animal rescue, accommodation, evacuation, vet treatment, re-union and re-homing of lost pets due to the fires, working closely with Chris Blair and PetFriends Winmalee. With Natasha Charlton she also setup a page named Blue Mountains Fire Evacuation Support for Pets, and connected rescue organisations such as WIRES, Animal Welfare League and vets with volunteers and practical support from businesses. Volunteers made feed drops and erected temporary fencing and ran Facebook and poster campaigns to reunite lost animals with their owners. There were so many people who worked incredibly hard with Letitia including Sharon Tunley and Misty Stebbing of Heavy Horse Heaven, Jayde Dennis, Francine Todd, Virginia Broadley, Shannon Maguire, Ruth Bailey and Paula Bateson.
Lauren Linsley, Barry Jones, Letitia Kemister and the Yellow Rock Group deserve special mention. This extraordinary group of people came together to support and empower each other after the bushfires in particularly around running a Christmas Party for fire affected residents. They turned adversity around and brought the community together not just for an amazing one day event where fire affected families were able to come together, have a wonderful time, access much need resources and just enjoy being a community but to bind the community together to help support and heal each other in an ongoing way. The volunteers of Yellow Rock continue to work to help themselves with practical and emotional support, sharing information, networking and acting as a lobby group for positive change, in the face of much adversity.