I go to Government House in Auckland on Saturday to receive the Queen's Service Medal. It was an emotional roller coaster to open the email last November. Disbelief - this must be for someone else, I though - then a question of why have I been singled out when so many others do so much. Then finally acceptance and deep humility, that a group of people had gone to such lengths that this honour was really for me. The feeling of gratitude and humility remains.
This whole process over the last six months has raised my awareness of volunteering in our community and, that those few who are acknowledged, really do stand on the shoulders of an army of people who give their time, skills and money to make our society a better place.
If we look around Whangārei, we realise how much we are blessed by the work of volunteers. The Hundertwasser Art Centre would not have been completed without the dedicated voluntary work over six years by a passionate group of people. They set about getting public approval, raising the money, doing countless hours of restoring bricks and timber, overseeing the project, and continuing as voluntary ambassadors for this wonderful tribute to a visionary man. It's a game-changer for our city.
Similarly, the rolling ball clock, where volunteers conceived the idea, built a prototype, raised the money and built this unique addition to our town basin. Go further to the Quarry Gardens, Quarry Arts Centre, Kiwi North, Hockey Stadium, Northland Events Centre, Hihiaua Culture Centre and multiple sports clubs, schools and recreation facilities. Add to these the range of social, cultural and social service organisations as well as multiple special interest facilities, all having a very significant voluntary input, which makes for our vibrant society.
We also have a Volunteer Fire Service, St John Ambulance, Hospice, Community Patrol, hospital chaplaincy, meals on wheels, library helpers, Justices of the Peace and many other groups which have a solid backbone of volunteers helping to make our community a safer place.
There is a sculpture in the Whangārei CBD called 'The Volunteer'. This brass and ceramic work, created by Northland artist Peter Yeates, depicts 12 individuals waving to pedestrians. It was dedicated in 2004 to honour volunteers and to mark the Year of the Volunteer.
According to Statistics NZ, in 2018 around 22 per cent of New Zealanders undertook some voluntary work with an estimated value of $4 billion per annum. This 22 per cent contributes around 167 million voluntary hours to our community. While this is an impressive number, there has been a worrying decrease in the number of people volunteering, compared to the 26 per cent of the population in 2013.
It's a concern that, even though volunteers are a significant component of the fabric of our society, increasingly people are saying they don't have time, don't have interest, or cite ill-health as a reason for not putting their hands up.
There's a saying that if you want something done, you give it to a busy person. One study suggested that the highest rate of volunteering is among people aged between 35 and 54, working full-time, with young children. Busy people, it seems, don't have time to lay back on the couch, and they feel that contributing to the community is important enough, to prioritise the time required.
Voluntary giving of time, skills or money is not just about helping other people, it gives back in multiple ways. A 2013 review of 40 international studies suggests that volunteering adds years to your life span. One study found that seniors who gave 100 hours or more annually were 28 per cent less likely to suffer premature death from any cause, than their less philanthropic counterparts.
The same study found that high-school students saw a drop in cholesterol levels and other health danger markers, after volunteering to help younger students with homework, sports and other after-school activities, once a week throughout the year. There is a huge feelgood factor added to your life that has a cumulative effect. The more you do, the more you get back and the more positive you feel.
Civic awards and royal honours are formal recognition of contribution, but that's not why we do it. Volunteering is a wonderful part of life balance and gives back far more than you give.