CO-VOLUNTEERS OF THE YEAR - 2020
By T.S. Sullivan
Vanessa Cohen and Liz Anderson are Koala Kids Foundation’s Co-Volunteers of the Year. Koala Kids Foundation is a volunteer driven organisation that provides small things that make a difference to children and young people during cancer treatment, their families and their healthcare team.
Vanessa Cohen aka Ness is happy and cheerful. Ness has an innate passion helping others, in this case Koala Kids. It is easy to see why she was awarded Co-Volunteer of the Year.
Vanessa first met Mandy Mandie, co-founder of Koala Kids in 2006 when she event managed Koala Foundation’s Million Dollar Lunch. Koala Kids was just starting and Vanessa and Mandy, were the driving force behind it. “I was one of the first volunteers,” she said. “We saw a need and we acted on that.”
“It was very raw, in those initial days we used to go into the hospital and serve tea out of orange cups that Mandy brought,” she said. “It was really simple but we realised how important that was to the parents just to have a cuppa and a chat.”
Vanessa is proud of Koala Kids and the effect it has on the lives of families and children during cancer treatment. “I remember a parent said to me: ‘my child hasn’t smiled for two weeks,’” she said. And after Koala Kids held a pizza day one parent even thanked her because their child had not eaten for days. These are the things that inspire Vanessa, “it’s amazing how many people and hospitals we support,” she said, “so much has grown from this little cupboard group to a really effective professional organisation.”
One of her favourite memories was last year’s inaugural Koala Kids Camp (with Little Big Steps – I love how we collaborate with other small organizations. “I was dressed as Father Christmas!” Vanessa laughed. “We really live our motto ‘We Believe Happy Helps,’ Everyone is happy, we all come together and everyone steps in no matter what we are doing.” And it is this can-do attitude that has made Koala Kids thrive, “the friendships that are built based on this commonality of purpose that brings meaning to every day,” Vanessa said.
In 10 years, Vanessa sees herself continuing to do what she loves most “giving back in time and resources to those who can benefit,” she said. And she encourages everyone around her to contribute to Koala Kids “we can only do what we do through the generosity of those that support us,” she said, “we are a voluntary organisation, relying solely on volunteers.”
Monday 18 May to Sunday 24 May is National Volunteer Week. Please recognise incredible people such as Vanessa using the #wavetovolunteers and #NVW2020 hashtag on social media.
Liz Anderson has worked for the Koala Kids Foundation since 2011 when she met founder Amanda Mandie, aka Mandy Mandie. “At that stage, Koala Kids was run primarily from Mandy’s home and we had a donated cupboard where we kept books, games and toys,” Liz said. Liz was working for Koala Foundation on the Million Dollar Lunch. Koala Kids was auspiced by Koala Foundation which became Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) the following year.
Koala Foundation provided storage space for Koala Kids and Mandy used to come into the office each week, reconcile deliveries, pack boxes and send them out to hospitals where children were undergoing cancer treatment. Koala Kids was primarily run from Mandy’s home and we kept books, games, toys and other resources in the office, Liz explained.
In 2014 Liz left CCF taking with her a strong friendship with Mandy and love of Koala Kids and its mission. “I had found a fabulous balance between my corporate role and volunteering – the perfect solution for me” she said.
“Over the past eight years I have been involved with many aspects of Koala Kids. O love working with Koala Kids young adults on the annual Orange Gala, the events committee on the ladies lunches and more recently have been developing the donor data base, taken over management of the volunteer database and developing a welcome pack for the new volunteers delivered parcels to families”. During COVID-19 I have loved delivery parcels directly to families. Liz said.
After losing her mother six years ago to cancer it was difficult for Liz to go into the Children’s Cancer Centre, “It was all too close to home” she said. But after a few years, she joined the weekend team, visiting the Children’s Cancer Centre with friends, interacting with the children and their families, making pizzas, pancakes and having fun!
Liz is inspired by Koala Kids, “to see the Foundation grow from a small volunteer group, to what it is today, and to be integrally involved is beautiful”, she said. “I love my husband Rob sharing the love I have for Koala Kids and really enjoy so many of my friends becoming involved so happily.”
Liz has understands that the safety of the children, their families and the hospital staff has meant Koala Kids volunteer activities had to be suspended during COVID-19. “ But I’m really looking forward to us being able to return to the hospitals and continue our happy activities.”
The pandemic further strengthened Liz’s desire to be involved in Koala Kids, realizing that “even a few hours of volunteering “changes the way you see the world,” Liz said. “When I was announced co-volunteer of the year, I was overwhelmed. I have only ever wanted to help the organization, the kids the families so to be recognised in this way is very humbling,” she said.
This week Koala Kids Foundation celebrated National Volunteer Week 2020. The public was encouraged to acknowledge volunteers for their service to the community with the #wavetovolunteers and #NVW2020 hashtag on social media.
Liz Anderson (left) and Vanessa Cohen (right) volunteering at Little Big Camp, December 2019.