For 71-year-old Annette Bedford, the driving force behind her volunteering career is simple: Joy.
"It's as simple as that. You can just bring joy to your day, be it on the phone or you know, sitting with one person and reading or just listening to one person," she said. "That can bring a lot of joy to you, as well as the person participating."
But the number of volunteers to bring that joy to those in need, or to support organisations and sporting groups delivering vital services, has dropped dramatically leaving many organisations with a critical shortage.
According to Volunteering Australia, the pandemic has seen two thirds of volunteers step away from their roles, leaving an increasing burden on those still willing to help.
Ms Bedford, who volunteers with The Smith Family's Ballarat Learning Club in Victoria's Central Highlands, was able to continue by transitioning to virtual volunteering, providing out-of-school support to her students online.
As Monday marks the beginning of National Volunteer Week, with the 2022 theme 'Better Together', those in the sector say less red tape, better communication and more flexibility from organisations may help boost numbers - and bring people together once again.
Ballarat Foundation chief executive Andrew Eales said a key part of reengaging volunteers was the ability of organisations to communicate their benefits.
"A lack of engagement from volunteers really does impact every corner of our community ... we are working closely with community organisations to try and understand how we can communicate to the community that volunteering, first of all, is a safe activity to undertake at the moment, but also the benefits of reconnecting to the community," he said.
"People have been isolated and volunteering is such a great way to reengage in the community and it really does help people's well being, to be connected in that way."
For Ms Bedford, she said staying connected to her students over the pandemic, and more broadly, the connection volunteering fosters was a major benefit.
"Having that interaction with people, we all crave interaction to a certain extent, don't we? So even if it's briefly for that one moment, you can [connect]," she said.
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Ms Bedford counts herself lucky she has been able to keep up with the requirements for volunteers through her previous work in a school, and said for new volunteers, there was a lot of "red tape".
"I've asked my friends and my girlfriends about volunteering, and they have to do these courses, you know, three days training ... it's any wonder we get turned off. We've had lifelong experiences, we volunteer because they say there's a need or we'd like to," she said.
"I've got girlfriends that have been home carers for [years], who would love to do something, but even if it's something as simple as reading to the elderly there's a ridiculous lot of red tape to go through just to do that."
Speaking to The Courier earlier this month, Volunteering Australia chief executive Mark Pearce said there was a need for "strategic reconsideration" in organisations to offer more flexibility in how people can volunteer to suit a broader range of lifestyles.
"If we start to think strategically about volunteering, we will inevitably start to change the messaging around it. What we're seeing as a function of COVID is that people, especially in Victoria, had a lot of restrictions ... they haven't had flexibility in the things that they want to do, and oftentimes how they do it," he said.
"There's a need for a strategic reconsideration of volunteering - it's about the messaging, but it's also about the way that we structure volunteer roles."
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