Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Born and raised in Bingara, Judi Peterson describes herself as a “jack of all trades, master of none.” For the last 24 years, she has been using her skills and knowledge earned over her lifetime to help others in the community through various volunteer groups. 

Speaking to the New England Times, Judi says her decision to join the ranks of volunteers came after “a traumatic injury” left her in hospital for an extended period. 

“I was left incapacitated for nearly 12 months. Once I could walk again, I decided I wanted to start giving back to my community,” she said.

“That was my desire; I wanted to give back, I was fortunate enough to have made a good recovery, and because I was in hospital for quite a while, I felt the United Hospital Auxiliaries would be a good place to start.”

Soon after she joined the Bingara Hospital Auxiliaries and later became involved with the Blue Light charity organisation, which delivers and supports numerous youth programmes nationally. 

Judi says she “progressed from there” and has since been involved in various other community volunteer groups, such as the Bingara Radiance Club, which helps provide housing to lower income earners. 

She joined the Bingara District Historical Society around 11 years ago. More recently, she officially joined the Bingara RSL Sub Branch as the liaison officer after helping out behind the scenes for the last seven or so years. The move has unintentionally provided huge social benefits. 

“The RSL sub branch is an easygoing group with great comradery. It’s been a pleasure to join, through the bi-monthly meetings my social life has increased 1000%,” Judi said. 

“A few new ex-military women have come to town, and I’ve joined up with them. We go to trivia nights, go out to dinner, and all sorts, I’m learning a lot about military life from them too.” 

All skills an asset when volunteering 

Before retiring, Judi says she worked in a myriad of different jobs. She owned a welding business with her husband, worked at the hospital, vet clinic, and taught computer skills to older members of the community.

All the skills she learned through her professional life have left her well equipped to give back now and help others.  

“I enjoy giving back to the community, I have a passion for assisting people, it makes me feel good that I have skills that I’m able to use to help other people,” she said. 

“I think everyone has skills that can be of benefit to their community and can help to assist in some way.” 

According to Judi, volunteering provides many benefits for everyone involved. In addition to the satisfaction of helping others, she has found volunteers experience extra mental stimulation, reduced stress, loneliness, and a new sense of purpose.

Even though it may seem scary or unattainable, especially if you have a busy schedule, Judi thinks it’s important to take the plunge and start volunteering. 

“Sometimes, it’s hard to find the time to volunteer, but the benefits can be enormous; you get to help people, worthwhile causes, and the community,” she said. 

“I understand that for people who work, it’s difficult. Even just a few hours every so often can be of such a huge benefit to the community; just a couple of extra hands can make a huge difference when you are putting on an event.” 

The Nigerian Education Minister and his Bingara pen pal 

Over her more than two decades of volunteering, Judi has had many highlights and moments that made her proud to be a volunteer. However, one that has stuck with her involved the Nigerian Education Minister and a Bingara pen pal from over 40 years earlier. 

“When I was about 15, we had an English teacher who had taught in Nigeria the previous year, and when he came to our school and taught us, he got us to correspond with his previous class, as pen pals,” Judi said. 

“We all had our pen pals, and we used to correspond through letters; the idea was for us to learn about a different culture; this was long before computers and the internet and all that,” 

Judi says she remained in contact with her pen pal for over 40 years, swapping photos and information about their lives every few years. They have since lost touch. 

However, others in her class didn’t keep up their correspondence as long, but at least one, the Nigerian Education Minister, never forgot about his Bingara pen pal. 

“About seven years ago, while I was volunteering at the Bingara museum, I received an email from the undersecretary to the Australian ambassador in Nigeria, the Minister for Education in Nigeria had asked the Australian ambassador to help find out what had happened to his Bingara pen pal,” Judi said. 

“So I asked around and got him all the information about what his pen pal had been doing for the last few decades; this is where they lived, what they were doing; it was lovely to be able to help like that.” 

This week across the New England make sure to thank any volunteers you see. From May 20 to May 26, it’s National Volunteer Week, a time to recognise the unsung heroes around the region.

Like what you’re reading? Support The New England Times by making a small donation today and help us keep delivering local news paywall-free. Donate now.