Sr Angela Burke: More than just a volunteerPrint
Working as a Vision Australia volunteer has been far from what Sr Angela Burke rsc expected. Although she initially signed up to read and record books, for the past three years Angela has had a rewarding and enriching experience working in the home visit program.
The former teacher, archivist and librarian thought of Vision Australia as the perfect organisation to support as she entered retirement and returned to Sydney from Melbourne.
“Years ago I’d volunteered with the Royal Blind Society,” Angela says.
“They’d send me books and boxes of cassettes and I would make recordings. I’m still a good reader and it’s something I enjoy so I thought that would be something that I would be able to do well.”
A different direction
When Angela first signed up, a conversation with Rolf Geerlings, a Vision Australia coordinator of volunteers, set her on a much different path from simply reading and recording books.
“When I first met Rolf, I told him that I was a Sister of Charity and had been a teacher and an archivist and that I loved singing, music and drama,” Angela says.
“Rolf said he thought there might be a better use of my skills rather than just sitting in a room reading books – and pushed me towards the home visit program.”
As its name suggests, the home visit programs involve volunteers providing support and assistance to Vision Australia clients in their homes. Rolf and Vision Australia work hard to match volunteers with clients who need help with tasks that match the volunteers’ skills. For Angela, that could be anything from taking a client for a cup of coffee to helping somebody transcribe text to braille.
“There was one client I’d visit every week and dictate music to her so she could use her braille machine to produce music she could read. There was another who was in year 11 and I’d help her with things like reading textbooks or preparing for her exams,” she explains.
Even for the short-term projects, Angela says her bond with clients “definitely goes past just a working relationship.”
“We still keep in touch, and they’ll sometimes ask if I can help them with something and I’m more than happy to do that.”
Angela considers all the clients she has worked with as friends, but there are some bonds that develop further than others.
Every Tuesday morning, she visits one lady to offer support after the recent loss of some close family members.
“When I first started visiting her it was to do a mobility walk, but now we might go for a drive and have a coffee somewhere or I’ll take her shopping or help her with whatever else she might need.
“I think she has come to depend on me. Not in an overbearing way, but as somebody that’s there to support her and I’m glad that I’ve been able to be there for her and provide that support.”
Trust and support
Along with being matched with clients who would benefit from her skills, Angela believes the trust she’s been shown by Vision Australia has also helped her feel comfortable in her role with the home visit program.
“Rolf has been fantastic in his support and trust. Rolf told me that he trusts my judgement and if I want to do something for a client to do it, and that I don’t need to ask him about everything,” she says.
Although for some tasks it’s important Angela keeps Rolf informed, she appreciates that in many instances he gives her the freedom to do what she thinks is best.
“When you’ve been in classroom teaching for so long it’s nice to do a variety of things and make connections with new people.”
With Angela’s role requiring her to enter the home of somebody who she might barely know, she says her time volunteering has taught her some valuable lessons.
“It’s definitely been something where I’ve got as much out of it as they have. The people I’ve worked with have just accepted me for who I am.
“It’s been a great lesson for me. It makes you realise that it’s what’s inside the person that matters and just how much something simple like a having a chat with somebody or going for a walk with them can make such a huge difference.”
Black and white image shows: Front row L to R: Sisters Sesarina Bau, Claire Nolan, Angela Burke. Back row L to R: Sisters Anthea Groves, Anne Mary Reynolds, Jacinta Fong, Therese Kent
- This article first appeared in the newsletter produced by Vision Australia 23 February, 2017. Reproduced by kind permission.