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Cheers to our unsung heroes


Cheers to our unsung heroes

An annual awards presentation offers thanks to some of the volunteers who help make our communities tick, selflessly giving hours and sometimes decades of their time to the benefit of others. WORDS: Candice Holznagel.

When Barb Roker answers her phone, she is sitting in the carpark of a local shopping centre. It’s 10am on a Thursday and the 62-year-old grandmother of three has already swum three kilometres with her squad, and will soon hit the beach for a surf.

It’s just a regular, quiet day, she says.

Barb is a busy woman. On Mondays, she drives to Brisbane to take care of her grandchildren. On the weekends, you will find her on the beach near the Alexandra Headland Surf Lifesaving Club. On the in-between days, there is surfing, yoga, gym and surfski sessions.

But it is the story behind her Tuesday afternoon routine that Barb is sharing today to raise the awareness of charitable work ahead of National Volunteer Week, which will be recognised from May
15 to 21.

Barb is one of the 8000 people registered with Volunteering Sunshine Coast. It’s a significant figure, and yet it doesn’t encompass all of the local organisations that utilise volunteers.

Nor does it take into account the endless number of residents who devote their time to sporting organisations, school events and programs, government organisations and disaster relief. The list goes on.

The State of Volunteering in Queensland Report states that more than three million adults gave a helping hand in 2021. For Barb, her afternoons spent as a transporter for the elderly clients of Suncare Community Services make for a rewarding and enjoyable part of her week.

“I’ve been there for about two years now,” she says.

“I turn up, I drive their car and do my run. If there are any problems, the people at Suncare are great in sorting it out. My role is to pick people up whether they are home or out. Sometimes I take them to bridge, to doctor’s appointments, just on an outing.

“I help one lady who is 102. She just finished playing golf last year, but she still goes out there to meet her group for lunch. I pick her up from there and take her home. I meet and chat with so many interesting people. I get to know them, to know about their families.

“These elderly people are so grateful that you are there to help … and they have great stories to share.”

Suncare’s Debbie Orman says Barb’s impact goes far and beyond. She makes each person feel at ease and can navigate any challenging obstacles, while being professional and fun. These are just some of the reasons Debbie nominated Barb for the upcoming Sunshine Coast Volunteer of the Year Awards.

Barb also has 30-plus years of service and contribution to the surf lifesaving movement.

Barb first joined the Alex Surf Life Saving Club when her then six-year-old daughter joined the nippers’ program.

Barb never left.

“At the time, they needed help with water safety so I did my water safety certificate. Then they needed people for patrols, so I did my Bronze (Medallion). Then I thought, ‘Oh well, I might as well compete’.

“In those days, it was only myself and three guys from Alex who would turn up at the carnivals. I was on my Pat Malone as a female for a long while.”

Barb has now been competing for 25 years. She recently returned from Perth where the coveted ‘Aussies’ (Australian Championships) were held this year. As the longest-serving Masters female competitor for Alex, she has a swag of gold, silver and bronze medals to her name.

While she no longer patrols regularly, she helps out as required in a mentor role for other club members, is part of the judiciary committee, and is also a volunteer for the Sea Horse program to help children with disabilities safely enjoy time on the beach.

“It’s about keeping active and fit,” Barb says.

“I like being around like-minded people, too. A club like Alex is quite large and while people say patrolling is their core business, there are other roles in the club that are just as important.

It’s also about doing welfare checks on people, ensuring people feel inclusive, organising training sessions for all levels.

“It’s not just about competing and patrolling the beach. It’s about connecting with people, checking in with people, lending an ear to listen.”

Dig a little deeper and you will find that, in fact, Barb has been lending an ear and helping people in other avenues, too.

In her professional life, she worked with young people, placing them in work-based traineeships. And, in 2016, she launched a podcast, titled Breakup Recovery, off the back of her own marital breakdown and experience as a mentor and in holding a Diploma of Applied Science, Community and Human Services. She taught herself how to podcast and interviewed people from all over the world.

There was no financial incentive (with a laugh, she says she made no money from her venture). It was simply a need to help heal herself and others. She hasn’t recorded an episode in three years but her show is still downloaded about 10,000 times every month.

“I guess that’s a form of volunteering, isn’t it,” Barb muses.

“For me, it’s about giving back to society because you can’t keep taking, can you? I think the key is find something you really love. There is no use doing Meals on Wheels if you don’t like food. If you don’t like the first volunteer role, you can try something else.”

Volunteering Sunshine Coast executive director Chris Scott says the organisation, which acts as a recruitment service for not-for-profit groups and community and spontaneous response events. It places about 3000 volunteers annually into the 100 associations and contacts on its books.

“There is a whole network of experience out there,” Mr Scott says.

“The biggest volunteer cohort is the 29 to 39 age group.

“I found that migrants find (volunteering) helpful for English language improvement. Volunteering also helps people with their CVs – the old adage: ‘I can’t get a job without experience. I can’t get experience without a job’. It breaks that cycle.

“Then there are the people who are interested in changing jobs and exploring different careers.

“The act of volunteering is significantly more than donated time.

“Volunteers actively develop skills and careers.”

Mr Scott says there is a large portion of retired people who also seek out a volunteer role.

“There are many benefits of volunteering, including reduced loneliness and a sense of worth. It allows people to reconnect with the community.

“It gets people moving, out in the community, connecting.”

Meanwhile, Barb has no thoughts of slowing down. She reaps the benefits of remaining mentally and physically active.

Her volunteering roles and her work on the podcast have also helped to heal previous traumas. They have undoubtedly helped thousands of others, too.

“I’m not rich in material possessions, but I’m certainly rich in experience and in life,” she says.

“It has taken a lot of personal work, deep thinking and seeking out some answers. The easiest thing to do is to live in victim mode, but you are the only one who can get yourself out.

“Sure, I could have said how my mother died when I was nine, and all sorts of things I’ve been through. I can blame a lot of people. But, ultimately it’s up to me to find the answers.

“I think I have hopefully helped people. I thank the world for the people in my life, my friends and family.

“I do yoga. I surf in the morning out in the ocean with a girlfriend.

“I’m out there on my surf ski to see the sun rise and see the beautiful dolphins swim around me. I’ve got it good.”

The state of volunteering

More than 3 million (or 75.7 per cent) of Queenslanders over 18 years of age volunteered in 2020.

This includes people who volunteered formally with organisations, as well as those who do not have an affiliation with an organisation but contributed informally to their communities.

Volunteers contributed over 900 million hours in 2020 and individuals volunteered for an average of 5.7 hours every week.

More people volunteered in 2020 compared with 2019, when the figure sat at 2.8 million.

Individuals volunteered for an average 5.7 hours every week (the data was collected when COVID had impacted work and travel).

The volunteering sector is more than three-times larger than the Queensland Government sector and about the same size as the private sector.

The value of volunteering to Queensland was almost $84 billion.

It would cost $37.1 billion to replace the labour that volunteers contribute to Queensland.

A total of 44.7% volunteer in their local community

63.3 per cent of volunteers in 2020 did so to help others, while 34 per cent did it for social connection.

Source: State of Volunteering in Queensland Report 2021

The accolades

The Volunteering Sunshine Coast Volunteer of the Year Awards and Dinner will be held on Wednesday, May 17, at the Maroochy Surf Club. The awards acknowledge the region’s unsung heroes and will be offered across six categories, including Volunteer of the Year, Youth Volunteer of the Year, Lifetime Contribution, Excellence in Managing Volunteers, Community Volunteering Changemaker and Corporate Volunteering Program.

For more information about Volunteering Sunshine Coast, visit


Candice's passion for journalism led her to the Sunshine Coast 12 years ago where she has worked across multiple media and communication platforms. An avid traveller (she lists Paris, Venice and Vietnam as her faves), this mum of one loves meeting with people from all walks of life and finds inspiration within their stories. Candice joined the team in 2014 and is MWP's editor.

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