Among Rotorua's estimated population of 72,500 people, there are many who work in the background freely giving their time, skills and aroha to help others without batting an eyelid. This in itself is commendable and something to proud of, let alone if someone has been doing it for a number of years. Rotorua Community Hospice recently celebrated those who have been dedicated, long-service volunteers. Shauni James found out more about the volunteers and what keeps them coming back.

A Rotorua organisation has celebrated its long-serving volunteer champions.

Rotorua Community Hospice held its Volunteer Long Service Awards on Wednesday recognising more than 30 volunteers for five years of service, five for 10 years plus, and five for more than 20 years of service.

The five who had volunteered for more 20 years were Barbara Hedgman (20 years), Janet Gaunt (21 years), Desrae Murphy (22 years), Pat De Carteret (29 years) and Ynys Fraser (more than 30 years).

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Rotorua Community Hospice chief executive Jonathon Hagger said at the awards the purpose of the event was to say thank you for the volunteers' long service, because it was their support and help that meant the hospice could continue.

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"For those of you that have been around a while ... you will have seen some changes and variations, and ups and downs through the life of Rotorua Community Hospice.

Rotorua Community Hospice recently celebrated those who have been dedicated, long-service volunteers

"But it is very pleasing to say that we are in very good health right now and a lot of that is built on the foundation of the work that you do, and the time you give freely and the support.

"It's a huge support to the staff, and more consequentially to the patients, because it is the patients that we exist for."

Rotorua Community Hospice celebrates volunteers at its Volunteer Long Service Awards. Photo / Supplied
Rotorua Community Hospice celebrates volunteers at its Volunteer Long Service Awards. Photo / Supplied

Desrae Murphy said it did not feel like she had been volunteering with Rotorua Hospice for 22 years, and it was emotional for her to reflect on it.

"You don't expect it. You don't do these things for rewards."

Her first contact with the hospice was in 1985, when her husband got bowel cancer.

She said the hospice supported the family just as much as the patient, and that was definitely what she and her three teenage children living at home experienced during that difficult time.

"The values of hospice I've always appreciated ... I always said I would try and give back when the occasion arose."

Murphy kept in contact with the hospice through membership and the newsletter. She answered an advertisement for volunteer training about mid-1997.

She chose to do regular companion sitting which involved going with patients to visit their doctor or hospital appointments.

Murphy also took patients to day stay, which was one day a week if patients were well enough.

After restructuring, the day stay programme was shortened and companion sitting was phased out. She spent more time at day stay, she said.

Desrae Murphy has been a volunteer for Rotorua Hospice for 22 years. Photo / Stephen Parker
Desrae Murphy has been a volunteer for Rotorua Hospice for 22 years. Photo / Stephen Parker

Murphy is now the day stay programme co-ordinator, where she organises for patients to be picked up and contacts providers of a weekly morning tea roster.

She is a prayer group member and helps with fundraising at the annual street appeals and Remembrance Trees.

She said helping at the Remembrance Trees could also be emotional because people came up and talked about how the hospice touched their families.

She helped with the first garage sale at Arawa Park and cooking sausages at the early golf tournaments. Murphy also volunteered at Southern Cross Hospital when the hospice trialled a wing there for patients.

Murphy said "the people you meet and being able to help people in their low times", were a couple of the reasons she had been a hospice volunteer for so many years.

She said a highlight for her was, especially if the patient had just been diagnosed and was coming to the hospice for the first time, seeing their confidence grow and come back through the day stay and companionship.

"After the first visit or two, they welcome you back with open arms.

"You just recognise that these people are unwell and if you can make them more comfortable in any way you try to do your best."

Barbara Hedgman began volunteering in 1999. Photo / File
Barbara Hedgman began volunteering in 1999. Photo / File

Barbara Hedgman started volunteering in 1999 by answering the phones once a week in the afternoons in the Hospice Cottage at the Lakefront.

She was very involved right from the beginning when Frank Fenton organised the garage sales held at the Arawa Racecourse in 2005, collecting goods from all around Rotorua with her husband.

They were successful and led to the hospice renting a garage to sell from on a regular basis. In 2006 they moved to a shop on Pururu St.

When that became too small they moved to Te Ngae Rd, which is where Hedgman has been volunteering three days a week ever since. They recently moved into the city on Hinemoa St.

Janet Gaunt started volunteering for the hospice in April 1998. Photo / File
Janet Gaunt started volunteering for the hospice in April 1998. Photo / File

Janet Gaunt started in April 1998 as a casual receptionist answering the phones.

She was at Frank Fenton's first annual garage sale held at the Arawa Racecourse and has been involved with hospice shops ever since.

Pat De Carteret leads the prayer group every fortnight and does a prayer at Rotorua Hospice's remembrance service each year.

Yyns Fraser was one of the founding volunteers for the prayer group and was part of the team of volunteers which cooked meals for patients.

She also took patients to appointments and visited them as a companion.

Rotorua Community Hospice volunteer manager Sue Gunn said it was absolutely wonderful there were people in the community who were so giving of their time.

Rotorua Community Hospice volunteer manager Sue Gunn. Photo / File
Rotorua Community Hospice volunteer manager Sue Gunn. Photo / File

"When I have spoken to them they just love it because they make such great friendships and find it fun, and I think it's about them working for an organisation that they feel they can add value and make a difference, and it's really important to them.

"They are our hospice champions. They are just wonderful people."