Louise Scott will be one of more than 10,000 volunteers that the Archdiocese will rightfully celebrate as community changemakers during National Volunteers Week (NVW) from May 15 – 21.
The married mother of three is part of Stafford parish.
As a former teacher, her opportunities to volunteer were once restricted to the music ministry and serving as a cantor.
Since retirement 5 years ago, however, she has taken on new roles, including steering partner of the Care for Creation group.
This group was tasked by Fr Denis Scanlan with the parish’s practical application of Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’.
Given two of her daughters were greatly influenced by the 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth” and went onto study environmental science and engineering, it was an issue she was familiar with.
“I’ve always been interested in the environment but it was actually my children who really drove me into this,” Louise said.
“I remember them coming home and talking about how we should change the way that we lived, but that was hard to do back then when we were so busy.
“We made some changes to our habits, just simple things, but I made a promise to the girls that once retired I would get involved in a bigger way.
“That’s why when Fr Denis asked ‘who’d be interested?’ I thought ‘well, now I have time,’ plus I knew with my daughters there was somewhere to go for some help.”
She wasn’t long in the chair before an opportunity disguised as a challenge arose.
The former parish secretary had suggested a space directly behind the parish offices was overdue for a makeover.
At the same time, a parish columbarium had been installed but security concerns meant there was nowhere for a seat in which people could quietly reflect and pray.
Inspiration struck when the same parish secretary alerted Louise to the Gambling Community Benefit Fund grants.
“So I worked on the grant and it was a wonderful learning experience,” Louise said.
“I had to submit a design and costings and we got the grant, but then the real work of collaborating with others in the parish began.
“It’s very different to schools where, as a teacher, you have an amount of autonomy on decisions about things; and the rest of it you work out with the teacher next door or in the staffroom.
“The decisions generally get made very quickly, whereas in the parish you need to take time to investigate things.
“I wouldn’t change that though because I recognised it as a very rich learning experience, and, as my husband David says, I am the ‘conduit that connects everything together.’”
The end result has been a win for everyone – a secure and peaceful space that tied together many of the beautiful talents and elements of parish life.
These included the gardening skills of a handyman parishioner and some orchids donated by a widow whose husband rests in the columbarium.
In a nod to parish history a Marian statue was also re-positioned.
It was a donation by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, whose convent onsite was built not long after the first Mass celebrated in a candy striped tent in 1957.
Although most volunteers don’t seek kudos Louise thinks the recognition of NVW is worthy.
“Sometimes people don’t realise how many community group actions are happening or totally run by volunteers, especially in the secular world,” Louise said.
“Mum used to say to me ‘use what you’ve got to help other people’.
“We sing in our hymns about using our talents to the full, and even as a very young person that resonated with me because everybody has something that’s unique that they can give.
“There’s lots of opportunities to volunteer in Stafford parish and Fr Denis always puts out feelers asking people to be involved.
“I think what precludes people is the busyness of life, and I certainly knew that, but you have to read the newsletter and also Denis sends out fantastic emails with all sorts of links.
“You just have to do a little reading to find out what’s available and might be of interest.
“If you’re good at buttering bread and making sprinkles look perfect that’s going to make somebody happy; if you’re good at producing beautiful spreadsheets that’s also going to make somebody happy.
“There’s also people who may be very quiet, but they could be perfect at sitting in front of a computer and researching things; so really there’s something for everybody and volunteering caters for that.
And her top tips for effective volunteering?
“I think it would be to ask people to join ‘groups’ not committees; to ask them to join personally; to keep meetings short; to use technology (i.e. Zoom – better attendance when people can stay home); to be a good listener, and wherever possible, to involve food.
“Everything is much better with a coffee and cake because it connects people and gives you a starting point,” she said.