Gemma Rygate on the Benefits of Giving Back to the Community

Gemma Rygate is the CEO of The Centre for Volunteering, the peak body in NSW for promoting volunteering and supporting community engagement.

Through providing leadership and service delivery in NSW and across Australia, the Centre for Volunteering connects people and organisations in order to enrich the community. 

Gemma Rygate, CEO of the Centre for Volunteering

AR: Why is volunteering important to you?

GR: In my first career as a teacher, I volunteered nearly every day because I saw the need. I got good return in a way that made me feel good and I could see the results of it. Volunteering underpins most things that happen in society.

Things just don’t happen without volunteering – people see where there is a gap to fill in the community and they go and do something about it. There is a need for all types of volunteering and the formal structures that come around it.

AR: The need for all types of volunteering is something to think about. The ways that people can participate in volunteer opportunities has evolved overtime. What are your thoughts on digital volunteering?

GR: Digital volunteering doesn’t replace traditional volunteering where there is a physical commitment mostly. It is merely a different way of volunteering and it opens it up to a whole new cohort of people that have seen barriers to entering the volunteering world because they don’t have enough time, they don’t want to travel and they don’t want to commit to set hours.

Virtual volunteering and utilising digital platforms is a great way of getting people connected and doing things.

AR: I find it interesting that you’ve mentioned how digital volunteering can lower the barrier of entry into volunteering. What is something you do to encourage people to seek traditional volunteer opportunities?  

GR: I personally try to lead by example. Mobilising people is really about tapping into individuals concerns, passions and the causes that they really believe in. We really need to think about how individuals react to certain things and what gets them off the couch to go and do something.

AR: Is there a story that stands about someone deciding to get off the couch?

GR: There are hundreds. One dentist (Deepti Cherukuri) saw a terrible need for people who are homeless and not accessing dental care. He rallied a few of his colleagues and formed an organisation (VincentCare)to give free dental care to them.

It has actually changed lives. To be able to smile in a job interview and feel some self – worth, that has all come from this program which has been rolled out across Australia.

AR: I love that a group of professionals came together to give people a chance to be feel included. Have you had the chance to witness the impact of uplifting members of the community?

GR: Volunteering has so many positive outcomes for both the individual volunteer and the community. The Centre for Volunteering runs the NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards every year and I have the privilege of meeting thousands of people who do something.

Image Supplied by the Centre for Volunteering.

One of the young people who is an award winner has gone through incredible personal hardship in her life and was helped out by a volunteer organisation and as she has transitioned into a more stable lifestyle, she has decided to go back and volunteer herself through helping young people going through similar circumstances. 

AR: It’s incredible to see that volunteers were able to support someone going through personal hardship and empower her to take an active role in changing the story for others. Is there an event in your life that made you realise that other people face challenges that are hard to overcome?

GR: The CEO Sleepout was incredibly confronting for me personally and it has made me really think about homelessness and how horrific it must be. One night of sleeping out was enough for me to really want to do something about homelessness and relieving the isolation.

I can’t explain how very, very confronting that tiny experience in a controlled situation was. I can’t imagine what it’s really like to have to do that every day.

AR: Learning about a cause through direct engagement in it and living out someone else’ experience, is an interesting way of approaching an issue. How has reflecting on that experience changed your understanding of the benefits of volunteering?

GR: Most volunteers go into something because they believe in it, they want to change something or there’s a particular cause that they are working for. Nearly everyone I have spoken to, has undergone a change in one way or another.

Sometimes it’s really huge for them and other times there are minor changes. Volunteering and immersing yourself in something for the common good is transformational.  

Interview by Annie Renouf, Content Writer at Communiteer

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