Volunteers have been integral to the life of the Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne ever since it opened its doors 20 years ago to support women and children in need. At a special event last month, over 50 volunteers were honoured for their commitment and service to The Inn.
“Volunteers have been there every step of the way: supporting us, assisting us, sharing our achievements and our challenges,” said Kirsty Manning, Volunteer Co-ordinator at The Inn.
“We tell them all the time that we couldn’t do it without them, and we absolutely couldn’t. But I think it’s actually more than that, we wouldn’t want to do it without them.”
About 50 people attended the special event at the Northcote Town Hall hosted by The Inn’s staff and board members. Following a number of speeches, each volunteer was presented with a certificate stating their years of service and a commemorative mug.
“This year The Inn celebrated its 20th anniversary. This year we also supported around 500 women and children. And everyone here tonight contributed to that work in some way over the past 12 months,” said Jade Myconos, The Inn’s Acting Manager.
“I want to thank all of our volunteers for their diverse contributions to The Inn, and further increasing the level of safety and support that guests receive while staying at The Inn. The work that you do enables us to provide a high standard of care and support to our guests.”
A ministry of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, The Inn began its life in 1996 when Sisters Anne Dixon and Helen Mills opened their home to the homeless. In 2016, The Inn continues that work providing short-term emergency accommodation for single women and women with children escaping domestic violence and homelessness.
From Monday to Friday every week of the year, guests are provided with a supportive, safe and welcoming place to stay, where they can attend to their immediate needs, before moving on to other short-term accommodation or returning to their home safely.
The team that makes this all happen includes a small number of employed staff and a large group of volunteers.
About 55 people currently volunteer at The Inn, with most committing to regular rostered tasks, such as cooking the evening meal for guests, cleaning and creating a homely atmosphere, staying overnight to assist the evening residential worker, cooking cakes and casseroles, and providing hospitality when guests arrive and leave.
Then there are other volunteers involved in gardening and sorting donated goods. Throughout the year there are also schools, community groups and corporate organisations who offer practical onsite support.
“They’re amazing; they’re always thinking of other ways in which they can become involved or get more people involved,” said Kirsty, who has been working at The Inn for about ten years in various roles, most recently co-ordinating the volunteers.
“They’ll approach their local church and parish about a donations box with groceries and then start bringing those in. Their generosity and capacity to get involved is always really, really overwhelming.”
Kirsty said the volunteers range in age from their 20s to 90s. Because of the nature of the work, they are mainly women, but there are a few men who volunteer, too.
“One of our longest serving volunteers, who’s been with us for 20 years, is a male who is on the cakes and casseroles roster,” said Kirsty. “It’s amazing!”
She said the guests “are always overwhelmed” when they learn that someone has volunteered to cook a cake or meal and drop it off at The Inn. “And they’re always pleasantly surprised that men might be volunteering their time and helping because they just haven’t had that positive experience of a male’s behaviour,” said Kirsty.
Jill began volunteering at The Inn about six years ago and is currently on the cooking and hospitality rosters.
“I cook the evening meal once a fortnight, as well as welcome and help settle guests when they arrive. I also attend churches and schools as a representative of [the] Good Samaritan Inn, explaining the history and role of the service and accepting donations,” she said.
“I really enjoy the interaction with the women and children, and like providing good home-cooked meals. It’s very satisfying to know that I’m assisting the guests and staff of The Inn.”
Ria is a sleep-over volunteer and has been associated with The Inn for three years.
“No two sleep-overs are the same,” she said.
“Sometimes I sit with the guests and talk about life or debrief about what brought them to The Inn, and sometimes I play dress-ups or games with the kids, or we bake muffins together.”
Ria enjoys the sense of community at The Inn. “I love that so many people come together to make it work.”
And to those who might be contemplating being a volunteer at The Inn, “Come and get involved!” Ria said.
“There are so many varying volunteer roles, there’s definitely something for everyone.”