The beauty of volunteering is there’s no down side. You’re helping others and, in doing so, helping yourself.

Vishnu PrasadVishnu Prasad says volunteering is ‘a great way to be an essential part of the local community’.

If you are a volunteer, you know the rewards that come with giving your time and effort without the expectation of dollars in return. You probably also know that what you and your fellow volunteers contribute is often overlooked or underappreciated by society.

The reality is, we’re good at valuing things we can quantify – especially in monetary terms. We’re less good at appreciating the myriad services and support provided free.

And yet, volunteers make up a very substantial proportion of the support that every community needs to function well – from cleaning up our parks and gardens to coaching kids at sport. And from brightening the lives of the lonely, isolated and infirm to feeding people who live on the streets.

Volunteering Australia reports that more than 36 per cent of our adult population engage in some kind of volunteering. This includes more than 30 per cent of people over the age of 65 and about 42 per cent of people aged between 45 and 64. Australians are clearly a nation of volunteers.

The overwhelming majority of people volunteer in a sport and recreational capacity, but we are also given to spontaneous support. For example, after Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, more than 22,000 potential spontaneous volunteers offered their help online via the Go Volunteer website and by a phone hotline managed by the Victorian Government.

One of the most telling factors among the over-65 age group is the amount of time people are prepared to give – a remarkable 104 hours per year on average.

Many seniors continue to volunteer despite the pressures of modern society, such as later retirement age and being increasingly called on to help care for grandchildren.

Less time, however, doesn’t mean they are any less compelled to help others outside their family circle. It’s simply how they were brought up.

There’s a sincere happiness that comes with volunteering

Vishnu Prasad grew up in Fiji, where volunteering was a part of everyday life.

Helping and sharing was a daily routine in Fiji, he says. Extended family was just as important as immediate family and the broader community was a short step from that, so we all joined in to help each other.

When he and his wife, Margaret, moved to Australia in 1988 it was a natural progression for them to keep doing things for others.

Not long after we arrived we were introduced to Wesley Mission and its Do Care service, which matches you with a lonely person and you go once a week or fortnight to sit and talk to them, he says.

You are doing something really worthwhile for people who may not have had contact with anybody, even their children, for the entire week. There’s a sincere happiness that comes with volunteering. For a start, it means that Margaret and I aren’t ever idle. That’s enough of a reason I would encourage older people to get involved in something they enjoy, or have skills in. It’s a great way to give back and continue to be an essential part of the local community.

Lella Cariddi, who volunteers at Multicultural Arts Victoria, agrees. Humankind is not an island, she says. Don’t wait to be invited or for someone to do the bidding on your behalf.

Be a catalyst and get involved in something you believe you can make a difference to. Think of the difference your intervening can lead to.

For more information go to www.volunteeringvictoria.org.au or www.volunteer.vic.gov.au