2018 Volunteer of the Year, Canberra Region
Natalie Wright was awarded 2018 Volunteer of the Year Award at the 2018 Volunteering Awards, Canberra Region. For the past 12 years Natalie has been volunteering with the St Vincent de Paul Society.
Natalie has been heading out on the streets of Canberra at night to provide light meals, warm clothing, advice and a friendly smile to vulnerable people in our community. Natalie leads two teams of volunteers that staff the Vinnies Night Patrol Van.
Natalie’s role as a Night Patrol Volunteer is to be present in the moment, to be friendly and approachable, to offer practical assistance, and a sympathetic ear. Natalie has also taken on the role of a Night Patrol Team Leader and has built a positive and supportive team atmosphere. Nat guides the team in the set-up and pack-up of resources, is aware of the conversations each team member is engaged in, and is to be prepared to make the call to leave if any member feels unsafe. Nat encourages a healthy debrief of the evening at the end of the shift and ensures her teams enjoy their volunteering experience.
A typical night out in the Vinnies Night Patrol Van
A typical night out on the Night Patrol firstly involves preparing the van for the evening with supplies, but that is about as much predictability as you can expect. One aspect of the van is to offer refreshments, warm items, toiletries and guidance in locating other support services. However, what most people really approach the van for is conversation, and you never really know what conversations you are going to have. Some are light-hearted, chatting about the weather; others are deeply personal stories involving heart ache, suffering and survival.
“It is in these conversations that you learn so much about what it means to be human, to honestly reflect on our inherent human dignity and the impact you have just by simply acknowledging someone’s story.”
Natalie’s day job with Mini Vinnies
During the day, Natalie is a teacher and a Mini Vinnies Coordinator; she spends her lunch breaks and the hours after school inspiring children from kindergarten to grade 6 to volunteer as Mini Vinnies. Mini Vinnies is a social justice group for primary school students. The program encourages young people to volunteer their time, fundraise and, most importantly, to advocate for social justice issues such as homelessness in the Canberra community. In this volunteer role Natalie has led groups of up to 120 students at a time, meeting at lunchtime to plan their fundraisers and take action on social justice issues. At her new school, Natalie is the newly appointed Religious Education Coordinator and is looking forward to the challenge of building another Mini Vinnies Team in a new community.
Natalie is frequently involved in fundraising for the Society, whether it’s organising Night Patrol Van donations, or running in the City 2 Surf to raise money for the van. Natalie has also volunteered with the annual Doorknock Appeal for more than 10 years.
A leader in our community
Natalie is a prominent leader in our community, both with the Night Patrol Van and the Mini Vinnies program.
She has been an influential role model for hundreds of Canberra school students, showing them how important it is to make the time to give back to others.
Natalie is a strong advocate for social justice and a wonderful example of how a young person with a busy career can make time for volunteering.