'Without volunteers the Yacaaba Centre would not operate' says manager Petra Offen

VOLUNTEERS: Yacaaba Centre volunters (from left): Kerry Croft, Virginia Smith, Clare Shennan and Annita Kneipp.
VOLUNTEERS: Yacaaba Centre volunters (from left): Kerry Croft, Virginia Smith, Clare Shennan and Annita Kneipp.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many not-for-profit community groups.

In the case of Nelson Bay's valuable counselling service the Yacaaba Centre, volunteers have become the heart, soul and mind of the organisation.

So grateful is the centre's manager Petra Offen of her small team of volunteers, she struggles to find the words to adequately express her appreciation.

"Put simply, without volunteers the Yacaaba Centre would not operate," she said.

"They are committed and passionate in everything they do. Their days are non stop and the work is full on; providing everyday care and relief, doing reception work, answering phone calls, making appointments with counsellors, meeting people in distress, welcoming and accommodating walk-ins, comforting, listening and offering a shoulder to lean on."

Ms Offen is referring to Kerry Croft, Annita Kneipp, Virginia Smith, Clare Shennan and the centre's longest serving volunteer Margaret Renshaw.

And while these women have their own reasons for volunteering, the one thing they all agree on is that they wouldn't have it any other way. There is a real sense of community, of giving back, of making a difference.

In fact, the volunteers say they gain great benefit from helping others. And that they could not perform their tasks without the generosity and support of the Port Stephens community.

"For me it's like therapy," says Ms Smith, a Yacaaba volunteer of more than a year who also gives her time to the Tomaree breast cancer support group.

"I had to give up full-time work 12 months ago to look after my elderly mum and I find coming here is very stimulating for the mind. I get as much out of it as I give."

Ms Croft began volunteering around the same time and says she enjoys the job of presenting a positive front when putting out the welcome mat.

"I have always volunteered my time, and I find it is important in this role to have an understanding of all forms of communication."

Both Ms Kneipp and Ms Shennan are relative newcomers to the Yacaaba Centre.

"It's a phenomenal feeling to be able to give back to my community ... holding space for distressed people and allowing them to feel safe," said Ms Kneipp, who shares her time with other volunteer groups such as suicide prevention, youth and sporting clubs.

For Ms Shennan, a massage therapist, it is the interaction with others that keeps her coming back.

"I love volunteering and helping people while seeing a different side of life ... being at the coalface and making a difference."

Anyone interested in volunteering their time can contact Ms Offen at the Yacaaba Centre on (02) 4984 2176.

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