STEPS Changing Lives Through Volunteering

“There was one time when I was teaching a lady to sew a basic skirt. She had never sewed before. When she finished it, she burst into tears. I didn’t know what was wrong. I went over to her and she told me she had sewn this skirt for her daughter and she was just so happy she had made it herself; she didn’t think she would be able to.”

Kerri Roberts shared this story when asked to recall a memorable moment in her volunteer role as a sewing instructor.

It reinforced the idea that what she does makes a difference in people’s lives.

Changing communities. Changing lives. That’s the theme of this year’s National Volunteer Week. From May 18 – 24 this annual celebration recognises the hard work and commitment of millions of volunteers across Australia.

This simple story highlights how a volunteer can change lives and how important volunteers are to the community.

For Ms Roberts, who had been sewing for over 40 years, she was struck by how sharing her skill could be so meaningful to someone.

Every Wednesday for the last two and a half years, Ms Roberts has volunteered her time as a sewing instructor at STEPS Education and Training in Palmerston.

The sewing group is made up of students who are studying English or gaining education and employment skills, and features anywhere from 6 and 12 women who come to sew, with many having migrated from countries all around the world.

Most who join the group have never sewn before and when Ms Roberts first introduces the new member to the sewing machine, she likens the sewing pedal to the accelerator of a car – “the softer you press the slower the speed”.

Ms Roberts said one of the most enjoyable parts of volunteering is watching the women gain confidence in their skills.

“I love sewing and I love the idea of teaching others, it’s terrific to watch them develop their sewing skills over time,” Ms Roberts said.

“I really enjoy what I do and I enjoy the company of these women,” she said.

Ms Roberts said she has learnt a lot from the women in the sewing group.

“I enjoy learning about different cultures, it’s really interesting and some women are even teaching me words in their language,” said Ms Roberts.

While volunteering her time has taught many women a new skill, teaching sewing skills to others has helped Ms Roberts.

She said she was hesitant at first about volunteering because she was nervous about taking on a teaching role.

“When I first started I was a bit unsure of myself,” she said.

But as time went on, she grew into the role and the sewing group started to take on new roles in the community too.

Word got out locally about the group and they have been approached by a few not-for-profit businesses that were in need of their skills.

Earlier this year, Koalas In Care Inc asked them to sew mittens and bags for injured koalas and the group has just finished sewing 300 bags for kids who swim with the Asthma Foundation Northern Territory.

While the sewing group looks for its next sewing project that will benefit the community, Ms Roberts said the group has been a benefit to her.

Ms Roberts experiences depression and anxiety and said volunteering helps with managing it.

“Having the sewing group there pushes me, it motivates me because I know the women love sewing and I don’t want to let them down,” said Ms Roberts.

Changing communities. Changing lives. Ms Roberts will continue to make her impact every Wednesday at STEPS Education and Training. National Volunteer Week is May 18- 24.

The class comprises STEPS students completing education and training programs such as the Adult Migrant English Program and the Skills for Education & Employment program. For more information about STEPS AMEP call 1300 585 868 today.

The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) is funded by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs

The Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment

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STEPS AMEP student Sherry Haynes at her work