Working In Community Services Can Be Heart-Wrenching, But I'd Never Give It Up

07/09/2016 12:00 PM AEST | Updated 10/11/2016 12:16 PM AEDT
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Todd Davidson

Just over ten years ago, I worked in hospitality. I had a café and catering business but, after a lot of struggle, that business went under and I was forced into a career change. Aged 40-Plus, I went back to university and decided as a complete change of direction to study community services and welfare. Ten years on, I now think that was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

Today, I'm the friend's volunteer coordinator for Very Special Kids. It's a charity that supports more than 1000 families of kids with severe disabilities and life threatening conditions. We also have a children's hospice in Melbourne where children come for respite and end of life care. The hospice -- one of only soon to be three children's hospices in Australia -- has eight beds, and we're always full.

My job is to deploy our 700-Plus strong team of carefully vetted volunteers -- aged from 12 to 85 -- across the many roles in which they can assist Very Special Kids. That can be as a direct support volunteer who'll be with a family right from diagnosis to bereavement and beyond, to placing volunteers on a training course so that they can drive one of our five giant pink piggy banks around Victoria during our appeal which runs though September.

Of course, you can't help but become emotionally attached to the kids or sympathise with the parents and siblings, who have their world blown apart when their family member is sick.

I've been with Very Special Kids for nearly five years now and in that time, two brothers who we've been supporting since they were two have particularly stuck with me. They're eight now. They suffer from a very rare genetic condition which affects only a handful of other Australian kids and in fact affects less than 100 people worldwide. For their beautiful parents to have two children with a severe genetic condition is just heartbreaking, but they're just the most beautiful boys and their family is wonderful.

Whenever the boys come to stay in the hospice to give their parents a break, I can't help but always make sure to pop in and say hi and share a smile with them. I'm always happy to see them and find out how they're doing. Despite the hardships they face every day, the boy's parents are truly inspirational too. They continuously make it a priority to raise funds for Very Special Kids and to publicise us at every opportunity.

So you do form a connection even though they're going through something that's incredibly difficult and sad. If I get a bit stressed or overwhelmed, I deal with it by thinking of the hospice staff and family support volunteers who are directly dealing with the families and kids on a daily basis. They're on the front-line.

My friends and family often say to me, "I don't know how you can do what you do," but even though we lose one child a week -- and we get to know the kids and the families, so it's utterly heart wrenching -- I feel more motivated than ever to carry on doing what I do.

You don't choose to work in health and community services because you want to get rich. I'm really lucky in that I don't think about it in terms of money. For me the feeling that I'm being of service to someone -- especially in such difficult circumstances -- and that I have a purpose is invaluable. Working in this sector has also made me so much more tolerant. Now if I encounter a first world problem like a slow coffee order or a traffic jam I'm like "get a real problem," this job really puts your own life into perspective.

I love being able to help our kids and their families by working with our incredible volunteers. One retired gentleman has been with us for 20 years, and he happily does everything from driving our pink piggy banks to spending a day every second weekend with a sibling of one of our kids on outings. You really get to see the inherent good in people in this role.

When we're trying to raise the $7million we need annually to keep Very Special Kids going, I'll happily dress up in a piggy costume to help with the fundraising. When a sick child is laughing at me in my piggy suit, it makes it all worthwhile.

Now I wouldn't want to do anything else. I've got the best job in the world.

HESTA proudly supports health and community services across Australia. The HESTA Awards program provides national recognition for individual, team and organisational excellence for nursing and midwifery, aged care, early childhood education and care, community sector and primary health care.

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