It all started when Bill Ryan’s parish priest asked him to move a church bus which was blocking a driveway.
“Sure, I can do that,” said Bill.
When he returned the priest had a second question for him: “Now, when can I put you down to drive on a regular basis?”
Bill had no trouble saying yes again.
He has been volunteering ever since, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s the thing about volunteers, who are being recognised during National Volunteer Week (18-24 May) – they have a distinct tendency to keep saying yes.
Around 5.8 million Australians, or 31 per cent of adults, were volunteers in 2014, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data. The value of their work was last estimated in 2006 at $43 billion.
The priest clearly knew a thing or two about team building, and so does Bill.
These days he not only remains active in the Toongabbie parish but chairs the Central Deanery Pastoral Council which draws together 11 Catholic parishes across western Sydney.
The 72-year-old, formerly NRMA regional manager for south-western Sydney, utilises his business skills to help achieve what really matters to him – building his local community.
“Volunteering has never been a big impost to me; it’s just something you add to your life. It’s all about being part of your community,” he said.
“You may or may not get things right all the time but you’re just doing your best to bring people together.
“You’re saying, ‘This is my community, this is where I live; can I help in some way to make it stronger?’
“Serving in the Deanery Council takes that idea to an even wider community.”
Bill’s idea of team building is all about looking to the future, and he’s a big promoter of young people in leadership roles.
He put that into practice at a forum in March to implement ideas arising from a major statement last year from Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv concerning cultural change, listening and welcoming.
“Why not involve our youth?” he asked. “Why not get these young guys running this forum?”
He turned to the deanery’s youth ambassadors, and couldn’t have been happier with the way they responded.
“They were fabulous,” he declared. “To see young people running with it … That’s what you get out of it – pure pleasure.”
One of those ambassadors, Ian Epondulan, has woven volunteering into the fabric of his daily life, just as Bill has done.
Ian also serves on the Diocese of Parramatta’s steering committee for social justice housing and is a member of the young adults social justice group at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills, which he calls “a wonderful place to stay and pray”.
He describes volunteering as a “blessing”.
“I get to walk around in other people’s shoes and connect with them,” he said. “I get a sense of hearing their story and hopefully responding to the needs of others. It’s a great insight.
“I learn a little bit more about myself, too, because communication is a two-way street. You are not doing it alone. Others are making the journey, too.”
The 30-year-old NSW Health dental therapist was surprised to discover migrants were coming from all over Sydney to his parish to take English lessons. Before long he became the course coordinator.
He was also an usher at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney and was so inspired by the first Australian Catholic Youth festival in Melbourne in 2013 that he hasn’t missed one since.
Ian is thankful for the faith instilled in him by his Filipino-born parents Quirino and Herminia.
He is proud of the shared multicultural backgrounds of the people at his own church and, as a member of its interfaith team, has been reaching out to other churches and faiths, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He has helped to forge links with the neighbouring Grantham Heights Uniting Church, and with the Muslim community at Mt Druitt and the Sikhs at Glenwood.
“We gave a common goal. A lot of our communities are feeling fear, and we have been able to share stories about how we are all coping,” he said.
“We’ve had panel discussions on Zoom and we’ve been able to hear migrant voices and the views of people of different colour.”
Bill Ryan has also been making use of technology.
“It’s all about holding the community together,” he said, “and telling them we’re still with you; don’t go away.”