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Longstanding Volunteers Feeling the LOVE

Every day, volunteers tackle an array of activities across our sites, services, and programs. The volunteers celebrating significant milestones this year illustrate the many ways you can make a difference.

As National Volunteer Week 2019 wrapped up last week, we held our third annual LGBTI Organisations Volunteer Event (LOVE) in partnership with JOY 94.9, Switchboard, Transgender Victoria, and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Held at St Kilda Town, LOVE has become an important time to honour longstanding volunteers as well as thank the army of volunteers that keep so many organisations like Thorne Harbour Health alive and well.

Wayne Ostler has been very hands on since arriving at the Positive Living Centre (PLC) as a volunteer.

“I graduated as a massage therapist, and a mate of mine had been doing massage there for a couple of years. He said to me to come on board. The massages are voluntary, but its good experience to build up in your professional field,” Wayne explained.

Sue Macgregor has also brought her professional skills into the Positive Living Centre, and has been doing so for 25 years with the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC).

“I’m a lawyer and I was aware in the early days that they were really short of lawyers. A friend of mine was volunteering, so I came along.”

She adds, “I absolutely love it. I love my clients. I love the meal I get on Thursdays. Love the other volunteers. It’s a great place.”

One of those volunteers behind the meals Sue speaks so highly of is Jaron Ngo. Jaron has been helping in the PLC kitchen for 15 years.

“Basically, I came out and went through the Young and Gay program,” he explains.

I felt like I wanted to give back to the community. I thought serving in the kitchen was the best use of my skill. My day job is in an office, and I wanted something completely different.

Jaron Ngo

Mark Brizzi also helps our communities get access to healthy meals as a volunteer in the PLC pantry.

“Being someone who is HIV positive – I was looking for something to do,” Mark said.

And five years later, he’s still at it.

When asked why he keeps doing it, he explains, “I keep going for all the friendships I’ve made – what I call my one-day-a-week friends.”

While volunteers like Wayne, Sue, Jaron, and Mark often enjoy face time with clients, many of the community members getting help from James Nelson will probably never see his face.

James has been volunteering for 15 years. He is one of Thorne Harbour’s online outreach or ‘AppReach’ volunteers offering sexual health, mental health, and overall health education via online apps like Scruff and Grindr.

“There was an opening in Outreach, and I really liked the idea of being hands on and helping people,” James explains.

“It’s been so rewarding. So many guys think there is no way out of their problems. When you talk to them though and you say, ‘hey there’s people here you can talk to and there’s a solution out there…’, you can feel the weight lift off their shoulders.”

Wayne echoes that rewarding feeling from providing relief to the community.

“I really enjoy it each week. I get very isolated people in to see me. I get people with depression. I get people with physical problems, and just to work on those and to have them walk out saying ‘gee I feel a lot better now’ — it’s what I like.”

For Sue, it has been a quarter of a century of ‘little highlights’.

Lots of little highlights and lots of really nice results, clients coming back and saying ‘thank you’ or seeing people a few years down the track and seeing things are sorted out. Not one big highlight, lots of little ones.

Sue Macgregor

When asked if much has changed during her time, Sue is quick to explain, “Oh my god! Huge changes! In the early days, a lot of my clients were looking at dying. They looked shocking. They were in poor health…now my clients look like everyday people.”

In addition to highly effective treatment for people living with HIV, James has noticed recent changes that have affected his work online.

“Technology has improved, and there has been a revolution in sexual health with things like PrEP and such. Still, 90% of the questions are bread and butter questions about how to stay healthy.”

I have to say, I have also learned a huge amount about what gay guys do. I thought I knew a reasonable amount, but BOY have I learned a lot.

James Nelson

What each volunteer takes from their time can vary greatly, but LOVE plays an important role in the bringing those various volunteers together for a night of festivities and thanking them for their meaningful contribution to our LGBTI communities.

As Mark Brizzi said, “Tonight has been a highlight for me - being recognised for my time as a volunteer.”

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Photo (clockwise from top left): City of Port Phillip Mayor Dick Gross, Sue Macgregor, THH Vice President Chris McDermott, Mark Brizzi, James Nelson, THH Volunteer Coordinator Daniel Bryen, Wayne Ostler, and Jaron Ngo.

Check out more LOVE photos by Mel Butters below!

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