The Sunshine Service has been a vital service in our community for many years and has provided a reliable and accessible means of transport for many people. The three yellow vans are seen crisscrossing back and forth town each day, carrying people to a range of appointments and providing an opportunity for connection and companionship on route. The service is also a rewarding volunteer role for the many volunteers involved as drivers and assistants.
Ross Thomson is the voice at the end of the phone when you call the Sunshine Service. He has been involved for many years, observing the changes and adaptations of the service as it responds to the needs of the Gisborne community. Ross believes that the priority for the service is providing a greater quality of life for people.
The Sunshine Service is not only for transporting people to medical appointments, although that does remain a vital aspect of their work. They are also increasingly enabling people to maintain their independence by assisting with trips to the supermarket, errands and transport to social outings at an affordable price with the necessary support. It is these crucial yet ordinary outings that connect people, helping to stop people from becoming socially isolated. This is particularly true for many people when they are no longer able to renew their licenses as this can have a huge impact on their independence. Having the option of using the Sunshine Service allows people to continue their lives without having to rely on family or other private transport options. Keith Watts and Bronwyn Gaddum pictured with the Sunshine Service vans. At its core are the Sunshine Service volunteers, many of whom have had long and satisfying volunteer roles with the Sunshine Service. Keith Watts has been volunteering every Friday for ten years and for much of that time has volunteered with his wife as a driver/assistant team. Keith says he has learnt a lot through his role as a driver, and believes that volunteering as a Sunshine Service driver is a privilege with a lot of learning involved, working alongside people with various health needs. Working for many years with his wife Margaret, they complimented each other’s skills sharing memorable experiences and getting to know many people in the community.
One thing that Keith credits to his volunteering experience is the learning of new skills. “I’m not a very patient person but when you are working with some of the passengers you need to be patient. Sometimes people forget that we are picking them up or you need to be careful and move slowly when assisting a passenger. You have to be careful because a fall can have a significant effect,” says Keith. “We don’t just drop people off and leave them to it, we make sure they are inside. We make sure they are safe," he assures.
Bronwyn Gaddum has worked as a volunteer with the Sunshine Service since her retirement four years ago. She enjoys being able to be out in the community supporting people in whatever way, to have a normal life. “It’s special to reconnect with people I may have worked with in my professional life. That’s been the main thing for me, a day out in the fresh air, moving around the community, it’s great” Bronwyn enjoys the camaraderie with the teams of drivers rostered on each shift. She lists a sense of humour as being essential to the role as well as being patient and aware. “Compassion and empathy are the greatest prerequisites. There is a huge team dynamic, especially with the other van drivers working on the same shift. We communicate by radio with the team and if you get in a bit of a bind and can’t pick someone up we can communicate with each other, help each other, have a joke and support one another” she shares. “Being aware of any limitations that your clients have is important. The vans have ramps at the back so if anyone needs assistance we’ve got the option of loading them onto the ramp which is a really safe way for passengers getting on and off the van,” describes Bronwyn. To be a Sunshine Service volunteer you sometimes need to think on your feet because you are working with elderly or infirm people and occasionally you have to divert to a GP practice or the ED department because of a medical event. You also develop practical knowledge and skills says Keith Watts “You’ve got to know where the streets are, which side of the street the numbers are and some local knowledge to save time on your route. You need to position the vans so that the steps are on the right side for instance,” he adds. Bronwyn observes the importance of the social side of the Sunshine Service describing passengers that get to know and help one another, having a laugh or chat as part of their journey. Both Bronwyn and Keith agree that without the Sunshine Service, many people in the community would experience a decrease in their quality of life. Many alternatives are just too expensive for people on a budget. The Service costs $3 for a trip and $5 for a return trip. “You do hear people say quite frequently that it’s such an amazing value for money service,” says Bronwyn. Keith has served as a volunteer on committees and with the fire service and enjoys giving back to the community “I think sometime in the future I might need the Sunshine Service and so I’m giving some time now,” he says. Keith has even been known to arrange his holidays around his regular Friday volunteering slot. Bronwyn reflects on the benefits of volunteering with the Sunshine Service. “I think volunteering gives you an immense amount of personal satisfaction because there’s no pressure. You are out there because you choose to be volunteering and you get that feedback from helping people. You are adding more dimensions to their life and to your own life. You’re out of the house and out and about. You go home afterwards with a warm fuzzy feeling. Volunteering is very rewarding for the person who is actually doing it .“
Volunteering as part of the Sunshine Service can fit in with your life and around other commitments. The Service has volunteers that work weekly, fortnightly and some on an on call basis. There is real flexibility. A high proportion of volunteers have flexible days and don’t work every week so you don’t necessarily have to commit to a regular time.
A shift volunteering for the Sunshine Service is roughly 7:45 am to about 3:30 pm, depending on the day. You need to be fairly fit as the role does consist of helping passengers get in and out of the vans.
It’s clear that the Sunshine Service provides a much needed service in our community that is more than travelling from here to there. More significantly, the passengers, drivers and assistants come together, weaving a fabric of community, increasing connections and combating social isolation. It seems that the Sunshine Service has far reaching benefits for all those involved.