How to start your own volunteer group

One Sunday a month, volunteers get together at Holder Wetlands to remove invasive species, plant natives and improve the environment. 

Volunteer with: Holder Wetlands Urban Landcare Group

The group was established after Marisa, the coordinator, was inspired to help out at her local wetland. ‘I really like to watch Gardening Australia.’ Marisa explains, ‘They often interview volunteer groups that have been operating for years, making beautiful gardens or maintaining natural sites. It inspired me to think I should see if there was a group to join the new Holder Wetlands.’ 

So, Marisa sent off an email to the site managers. 

‘They said there wasn’t a group and asked me if I wanted to start one, and I said yes.’ 

While it sounds daunting, Marisa says ‘it’s actually really easy to organise.’

So, what does it take to be a coordinator?

‘You just have to be committed to turn up every time, send a couple of emails, and make a couple of Facebook posts. There’s a bit of paperwork but overall, it’s really easy.’ 

The group is supported by Transport Canberra and City Services, who have provided them with a green waste bin and tools and equipment to run the working days.  

In addition to the benefit their volunteering efforts have on the natural environment, Marisa and her family also really enjoy the work they put into Holder Wetlands.

‘We’ve been able to meet new people, it’s a lovely friendly atmosphere and it’s great to get out. If you’re committed, you come and always feel good afterwards.’

Their feelings align with a: growing body of research that shows many aspects of community volunteering contribute to higher levels of individual wellbeing, like community connection, getting out in nature and doing meaningful activities. 

Marisa’s husband Steve reflects that their work is contributing to closer community networks, both directly, through the volunteers, and indirectly, through people that come through the area.

‘I like to think that other people, as they come through and see people working on it, can see that the community they’re part of is also involved in caring for the environment we live in. Whether or not it motivates them to get involved, it shows that people around here care about this space.’

Steve says that  environmental volunteering has given him ‘both the ambition to change things and empowerment to make those changes.’

Caring for and enhancing Holder Wetlands has given Steve a stronger connection to the park.

 ‘When I ride through here on my way to and from work, I look at things more. I have been working removing blackberry from beside the creek, and opening it up so you can see through has really changed the area.’ 

Volunteering as a family

Volunteering can help kids learn, and encourage them to get out in nature. It’s also a great place to catch up with family members as an adult, and to work on something practical and fun together while getting outside. 

Families with kids

In addition to running the group, Marisa and her husband Steve have two children, Rose and Danny, who they bring along to the working groups. 

Photo: OCSE

‘It’s easy to do with kids’ they say. Danny is still a baby, but ‘He loves it, he comes every month!’ Marisa’s mum comes and hangs out with the baby on volunteering days, so three generations of the family are involved in their volunteer work.

Marisa and Steve had some advice about bringing kids along to volunteering events: 

  1. Have a couple of kids there so they can play with each other, and;
  2. Bring some toys for entertainment.

‘Rose likes to use scissors to cut the tops off the grass, It’s like nature’s hair salon’. 

On a recent working bee at Holder Wetlands, Rose and friend Tom found a big pile of clay and had a great time sculpting mugs from it.

Photo: OCSE

Reflecting on why involving kids in environmental volunteering, Rose says ‘it’s good to have the fresh air, learning about gardening.’ Marisa adds, ‘It fits in well with their schoolwork too, they learn about the environment at school, and this is a practical application of what they’re learning.

‘Maybe she’ll be more likely to do volunteering herself.’ 

Grown up families

Liz has been volunteering for over 30 years. It’s something she and her son Shaun do on a regular basis as a way to spend time together, get outdoors, and give something back to the Canberra environment. 

Liz and her son, Shaun. Photo: OCSE

‘This is our catch up; we get to have a chat and do Landcare as well.’ Liz and Shaun spread themselves around different community volunteering groups, deciding on the day which one to go to. They’re both involved in other forms of volunteering too. Liz initiated the Tuggeranong See-Change branch, and is now its Co-Convener of both Tuggeranong See-Change the associated ‘Repair Café’. Shaun is a volunteer firefighter as well as a volunteer Repairer at the Repair Cafe. 

‘It’s a great part of community, volunteering in Canberra, people are happy to have you along to help out, if you’re a periphery or occasional member, you can just go along to something you’re interested in on the day and it’s a great way to catch up with family members.’

Liz and Shaun enjoy that volunteering is a way for them to spend time together, and they find it has a range of other benefits too, ‘I enjoy it, you’re giving back but you’re also meeting lots of people and making the world a better world.’

Both Liz and Shaun have developed new skills and undertaken training programs. ‘You can bring skills you’ve developed from volunteering into your job, you can really bring a whole new set of skills to the table, it’s a win-win really.’ 

Interested joining a volunteer group? See what’s out there, or start your own! Your local Catchment Group is a great place to start finding out what’s going on in your area.