Volunteering. Giving as much as you gain.

Jonathan Downer gives a lot to his community.

Jonathan moved from Auckland to Wanaka in 2014 to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life amongst the lakes and mountains. An information technology specialist, he works at home, contracting his skills out to various clients and supporting the work of local business Flip Digital. In his spare time he enjoys tramping, playing the guitar and music.

I met Jonathan shortly after he moved to Wanaka. He hadn’t volunteered previously and was keen to ‘do his bit for the community’. Being self-employed he had flexibility that enabled him to share his skills and energy with his new community.

Volunteering Central meets people like Jonathan who are keen to volunteer, but don’t know what options are out there. We chatted for around an hour about his background, interests, skills and motivations and looked at organisations that were seeking volunteers at the time.

After considering his options, we connected Jonathan with the Wanaka Walking School Bus (who were seeking volunteers to support the children walking to school), Primetimers (who needed volunteers to help at their twice monthly socials) and Community Networks (who were setting up computer lessons for local seniors).

“Going through Volunteering Central was quicker and easier than trying to find the information on my own. Without their knowledge it would have taken much longer and I might have given up, so it would have been everyone’s loss in the end. It was easy to pick the suitable roles, touch base and get started in a short quick space of time.”

Jonathan started volunteering soon after we met and hasn’t looked back since.







Four years later he is still actively involved with all three organisations and a couple of years ago stated getting paid for his work at Community Networks.

“I like to help people and feel like I’m making a positive difference in the community and it’s been great to get out and meet people I probably wouldn’t have ordinarily crossed paths with.”

“The kids on the walking bus have a great honesty about them. One morning I told the group that after dropping them off I was meeting up with my mum for a coffee and they looked up at me in the way children do and said ‘you’re too old to have a mum!’ We laughed so much afterwards! You never know what they are going to say and these comedy moments makes it so enjoyable and worthwhile!” Jonathan says.

Jonathan walks from his home to the bus stop with a total route of 6km, with a stop for a coffee at Urban Grind on the way home. “It’s a great way to start the day and as I work from home it’s good to get out and be active whilst meeting some lovely people.”

The Wanaka Walking School bus is entirely volunteer run and enables children to be picked up at the allocated stops along the route and walk to school safely – not only keeping cars off the road, but getting the children active and alert ready for their day.

Wanaka Primary School student George Baumgren has been on the bus since he started school two years ago and has recently been joined by his younger brother Charlie. Their mum Jenny can’t speak highly enough of Jonathan. “We are so grateful to Jonathan for walking George to school every Thursday since he started school. To help out families and look after our children, whilst safely taking them to school is amazing. It is always lovely to see his friendly smile in the morning. I don’t think he realises how much he helps us out.”

Jonathan has been a regular on the bus every Thursday for the last four years and is proud to have never missed a slot through illness – just twice due to weather or having a break away from Wanaka.

What would Jonathan say to others considering volunteering? “Just do it! You get so much out of it, the friendships, doing something different and the sense of satisfaction – it is so worth it!”

The Walking School bus are currently seeking new volunteers to support them. To find out more about them or other volunteering opportunities visit www.volunteeringcentral.org.nz or 027 506 5705. Facebook Wanaka Walking School Bus or Volunteering Central.