“I feel like I’m needed too,’ says James Kidd about volunteering at a Wellways mental health support program in the ACT. He is an electrical engineer and former participant of Wellways. “I’m generally by myself, and before I got my new partner [who lives in Sydney], I went through a bad divorce.” Back in 2019, James experienced a mental breakdown. He was supported in his recovery by a particular volunteer, who made a life-changing impact on him. “I was just interested in giving back to the community, after he really helped me out.”

James volunteers two days per week on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 5pm to 8pm (depending on the day). He chose to volunteer for a youth program for 18- to 24-year-olds, mainly because it was closer to his home. The Youth Step-Up Step-Down program is a residential recovery-focused initiative that supports young adults after a period of living with mental health challenges. It aims to prevent hospital admissions and supports participants to re-engage with education, and the community and workforce.

“It’s very easy going, very relaxed,” says James. His volunteer tasks vary depending on what is needed on the day and the group of young people in the residence at the time. Sometimes he will help with communal meals or setting up the television console, and other times he’ll play games or watch Netflix with participants. “Mate, I enjoy the company, and a bit of conversation and cooking — this is something for me to do and get out of the house.”

James, Volunteer and Reece, ex-participant and regular visitor

David Jenkins, a Support Worker for Youth Step-Up Step-Down, has worked with James for three years. “He is a great guy and I always look forward to getting to work on the days James comes in,” David says. “James brings a blend of empathy, wisdom, and humour to all his interactions with staff and participants.”

It’s fairly common for someone new to the program to take time getting to know and trust people at the residence, David says. “James’ supportive and non-judgmental approach puts everyone at ease — and people just feel comfortable opening-up and sharing with him. It's a wonderful skill and he's helped many, many people.”

James recognises that participants value and are interested in his lived experience. “If they’re not feeling great that day, I’ll let them know that things will get better, and what strategies helped me during my recovery.” Part of his role is also being a mentor or parental figure. For example, he may help participants with budgeting tips, encourage them to learn a new skill or motivate them to think about a career they may enjoy.

“We look for volunteers who are passionate and excited about the idea of being a social support, and getting someone involved in the community and feeling like they belong,” says Amber Borg, Team Leader at Wellways for the Life in Community (LinC) Volunteer program in the ACT. Interest also comes from those who have experience caring for a friend or family member, or have a lived experience of mental health challenges and want to give back, similar to James.

Alana, Participant and James, Volunteer

“Some volunteers are students, that aren’t necessarily doing a placement, they just want to be involved in this type of setting and see what happens,” Amber shares. When training new volunteers, she goes over scenarios and provides feedback on how they should best respond to participants. Volunteers are given tools and encouraged to create a natural bond with participants, and slowly build a rapport with them.

“I’ve been told that I seem to be able to get through to the kids,” James says. “I just talk to them about what’s positive, what they should look out for, and what they should try to do [that’s in their best interests].” He also understands that you can’t do everything and sometimes the participants don’t want to talk to you — and that he’s not a therapist. However, “It’s good to hear good feedback — like ‘You really helped me out,’ he admits”.

Amber says, “We want a range of different personality types including introverts to volunteer with us. Some of our participants are introverts, and actually might feel more comfortable with someone who has a slower approach. But we love those outgoing bubbly types as well.” Wellways is always looking out for new volunteers of any age to join our LinC and Helpline programs.

James sums up the benefits of helping others when he says, “Volunteering helps me mentally by giving me something to do, making me feel like I’m part of something bigger, and hopefully making a difference in someone’s life”.

‘Something for Everyone’ is the theme of National Volunteer Week 2024.

If you’d like to learn more about Volunteering at Wellways, please visit Volunteer with us.