Volunteering  |  24 Jun 2021

When West Coaster Michelle Gillman moved to Christchurch three years ago, one of the first things she did was sign up as a Civil Defence volunteer.

“I have always been a volunteer for all sorts of things on the Coast and I wanted to find some volunteering work that would be meaningful in Christchurch so I joined up,’’ says the 49-year-old mother of two.

As a member of a Civil Defence Emergency Support Team, Michelle could be sent to assist any group or community that needs help to manage the impacts of an emergency.

“That might mean running a Civil Defence Centre in a flood, supporting families after a terrorist event, doing needs assessments following an event, or supporting any other agency in their work when they need CDEM to help support communities with their immediate needs, like food, shelter, first aid, or simply information and reassurance,’’ she explains.

Because Michelle is a member of the leadership group for the Christchurch team, she is involved in planning exercises and training for other volunteers so can easily put in 10 to 12 hours a week on Civil Defence tasks.

However, she says the commitment for most volunteers is about two to three hours a week.

“It is great to be part of such a diverse and inclusive group of volunteers and know that what we do builds capability in the communities we serve,’’ she says. “I have made great friends and I always learn from them because we have some amazing talented, diverse, skilled people within our group.’’

Forty-six-year-old Louis Couperus (pictured above) is also a volunteer with Civil Defence. He is a safety officer with one of the response teams – NZ RT-11 -- and has, over the years, been involved in responding to fires, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes.

He has also helped with missing person searches, welfare checks and public information drops.

These days if a big event occurs, he is more likely to be in the Emergency Operations Centre helping to manage the response teams than out in the field, but he continues to train with them regularly and to be involved in developing their skills.

Louis says that he gets a sense of belonging and worth from his volunteering.

“I am part of a great team of people from all different walks in life. I know they have my back and I am happy to have theirs. I have been given so much by others and am able to return that by giving to those responders I can happily call a second family.

“Through the response team training I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience that you just can’t get otherwise.’’

So, what message would Louis give to anyone thinking of becoming a Civil Defence volunteer?

“Do it. There are lots of different opportunities that suit different skillsets. You get to be part of a great group of people who all want to give something in service of others,’’ he says.

20 to 26 June is National Volunteer Week. Find out how you can make a difference in your community by volunteering.