Sydney can be a cold beast, but it can also be a big-hearted fluffy one. Running parallel to the clichés of suits and yachts are the pockets of the city where you can give some of your valuable time to those who need it most. Siphoning some of our spare moments into volunteering can be daunting, so we had a look at few of the places keeping benevolence floating in our city at the moment and how you could get involved.
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11 places to volunteer in Sydney
What do they do? If you’ve walked down the main drag of Redfern, chances are you’ve curiously peered through the windows of ‘the Martian Embassy’, an intergalactic storefront that houses the Sydney Story Factory (SSF) in its rear. Operating as a story-building and literacy school for kids, who are often from low socioeconomic and marginalised backgrounds, the SSF works with school groups, communities and locals aged 7-17.
What could you do for them? You don’t have to be a formally trained educator to help a young person tap into their creative potential, just a good listener with an encouraging disposition. The volunteer experience usually involves one-on-one contact with a few students every week for a term, but you can also sign up to help SSF in other ways, like illustration, typing, or even selling cans of gravity in the Martian Embassy retail space.
How do I sign up? The SSF requires you to complete a Working With Children Check first and then after registering your interest through the website you are given a time to attend a brief training and orientation day before committing to regular tutoring shifts.
What do they do? Gig Buddies does exactly what it sounds like – teams up live music enthusiasts with volunteer buddies. This is centred around facilitating outings for young adults with learning disabilities, aiming to tackle feelings of social isolation by fostering friendships and fun events.
What could you do for them? Become a buddy! The idea isn’t just a one gig drop-in: it’s more about cultivating a meaningful friendship and catching up with your bud once a month or so. The Gig Buddies team matches you with a pal who shares your tastes and interests such as movies or sporting events (check out their NRL partner Shark Buddies too).
How do I sign up? Gig Buddies requires you to fill out a brief application online and then participate in a training and information day. Once completed, you are assigned a buddy and the fun begins, adding a pal who maybe doesn’t have the same roaring social group as you to your next cultural adventure. Want to know more? Check out some insights we learned from a couple of gig buddies.
What do they do? The Welcome Dinner Project is a simple concept with big intentions, to connect established Australians with new arrivals over a shared meal. People who sign up for the dinners could be recent migrants, international students, refugees, or asylum seekers and this project helps them connect socially with their new community.
What could you do for them? You’ve most probably held a potluck dinner at home with mates before, now imagine sprinkling that culinary chemistry with a few newly arrived people from different walks of life. Operating as a potluck you don’t need to stress about the cost of catering for a lot of people, as everyone brings a dish of significance to share.
How do I sign up? You could elect to host a dinner at your house or bring a dish to someone else’s abode, there are also frequent, larger community dinners to attend. Register your interest on the website and get ready to meet new friends and try new dishes.
What do they do? Servicing a lot of different council areas, Sydney Dogs and Cats Home is a non-profit pound largely run by volunteers. They take in over 3,000 animals every year (they also have bunnies and other smaller critters) and operate an adoption and fostering service.
What could you do for them? If you’ve ever spent time longingly looking through pound lists – knowing full well you can’t really adopt a pet right now – this could be the ideal volunteer opportunity for you. The Sydney Dogs and Cats Home always needs a hand with animal loving duties like cleaning kennels, feeding, grooming and cuddling puppies and kittens. If you’re less hands-on but still want to help, they also gladly accept admin volunteers or help organising fundraising events.
How do I sign up? Simply head to their website and fill out an expression of interest form for volunteering, and the team will get in touch. You and be over 18 to apply and they are on the look-out for animal lovers who can take on at least one shift a fortnight.
What do they do? Operating for over 60 years, Meals on Wheels brings food and company to elderly people and those with limited mobility directly to their homes. The nutritious meals are secondary to the delivery of conversation and attention to those who may not get the chance to socialise often. It’s about maintaining our senior and disabled community members’ well-being and sense of independence in their own homes.
What could you do for them? Meals on Wheels is always looking for drivers, whether that be delivering food to someone in their home or delivering that someone to a social event or group activity. The organisation’s motto ‘more than just a meal’ is indicative of the kind of commitment you’d be making; the quality of your visit is less pizza delivery driver and more about fostering meaningful friendship.
How do I sign up? Meals on Wheels has a huge network all over Australia – head to the website to find your local branch and sign up to be a driver. If you don’t have a vehicle or license, but are still interested in participating, there are other organisational roles you could be perfect for, such as joining your local committee or office duties.
What do they do? Seed is a branch of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition that is building a bank of volunteers who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander to take action in leading climate justice campaigns. They have a focus on protest, mentorship and building a national network of passionate youth, particularly those with the incomparable environmental knowledge and traditions of Australia’s First People.
What could you do for them? If you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young person you could help out with Seed’s campaigns both online and IRL. This could involve putting your time into actions, like physical rallies against fracking or leading educational sessions with other Indigenous youth. It’s a growing organisation and you could be part of the frontline protecting country and communities.
How do I sign up? There is a simple online form to fill out; you’ll be added to Seed’s national database and alerted via email of opportunities and campaigns in your area. If you are a non-Indigenous person, you can help by signing up to the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
What do they do? One of many hubs for inner-city Sydney’s street communities, Rough Edges operates as a low-cost café and meeting spot for people experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental illness in Darlinghurst. The café is completely volunteer run and gives more than just meals to its patrons, with a focus on offering a safe and social space with regular events and activities.
What could you do for them? You can help run a day or night session in the café, serving food and having a chat, or offer a hand in the veggie garden on the weekend. There are also avenues through their sister organisation Rough Threads to donate clothing, skills and time for community events that offer services like free haircuts and health check-ups.
How do I sign up? It’s important to understand the people and issues you’ll be encountering before you jump in. You can learn more at the Rough Edges volunteer information nights and then apply to attend valuable training sessions. Volunteering requires you to attend and info session, fill in an application, and once you're accepted, provide a one-off $250 fee ($125 for students) for a training course. It’s also worth looking into other local street community services like the Street Buffet, the Wayside Chapel and the roaming Orange Sky laundry service.
What do they do? You may have encountered the team of orange overalled volunteers at an information session when you were in high school, or you might have met them as they ferried you out of your flooded house. The State Emergency Service (SES), which is a volunteer-based organisation, is the driving force behind first response to floods, storms and tsunamis, and plays an important role in educating the public about how to prepare for and act safely during these events.
What could you do for them? Be the boots on the ground beside the SES trucks, helping Sydneysiders in emergency situations. If you’ve a mind for organisation, you can also help out in operational support roles, and charismatic communicators can put their social skills to good use within community education programs. If you can’t commit to a long-term role, become a spontaneous volunteer and support the cause occasionally.
How do I sign up? Once you’ve applied online to join a unit near you, you’ll be contacted for a follow-up interview. Don’t fret about a resume, though – the SES provides comprehensive training for volunteers, from basic first aid to expert and technical communication, so you’ll be picking up new skills as you go. Hear all about the learning experience from a wise volunteer.
What do they do? Since 2004, the Pyjama Foundation has been providing support to children living in foster care around Australia. The organisation focuses on maintaining meaningful connections between volunteers and foster kids by organising weekly meetings that prioritise learning in fun, engaging ways. The ultimate goal is to help the 48,000 children in foster care around the country reach their academic potential, while providing social stability and mentoring in essential life skills.
What could you do for them? Become a Pyjama Angel. You’ll need to be able to commit to the program for at least 12 months, and it involves meeting up with your designated buddy once a week for one hour. You’ll be reading books together, helping them with homework and generally hanging out, talking about life and being a rad role model. Consistency in this kind of support role is key.
How do I sign up? There are a few steps and requirements in the volunteer application process. You’ll need to fill in the application form, be interviewed, complete a Working With Children check and then get in contact with your designated foster child’s carer to organise meet-ups. You’ll also need to be over 18, speak basic English and have basic literacy and numeracy skills. Having your own transport is helpful but not essential.
What do they do? Housed at the back of the Newtown Library, the Women’s Library (TWL) is a devoted resource room and safe space for queer women, feminists and anyone who identifies as female. Run by volunteers since 1992, the TWL holds regular events in the space and acts as an archive for texts and artefacts by and for women.
What could you do for them? The library is run entirely by volunteers, so you can provide invaluable hands-on help with cataloguing, shelving and maintenance. Or, maybe lend your support through mailouts, IT and social media campaigns.
How do I sign up? You’ll have to join TWL as a member first, which costs $5 a year. Once approved you can express your interest in an area of expertise or skill to help the library continue to thrive.
What do they do? The Friends are a group of community volunteers who spend time trying to regenerate the bushlands of Lane Cove National Park. With both weekly and monthly meet-ups, the group cares for the native shrubs by removing weeds, replenishing vegetation lost from bushfires, and education newcomers about bush regeneration. They're also passionate advocates for the historical and cultural significance of the land and aim to undo the polluting effects of increasing urban developments in the area.
What could you do for them? You can join a group on a casual or formal basis as you please. The Friends offer on-the-go training so you won't feel out of your depth if you're a first timer. They also have periodic workshops for you to learn more about the field. It's physical work, but the lush rewards are worth it.