She may have come late to surf lifesaving, but Cheryl McCarthy has certainly thrown herself into the movement, and in process has given a little, and changed a lot.
The Bermagui SLSC secretary has been heavily involved in her club and at branch level helping out wherever she can, and throughout her time involved within surf lifesaving has always demonstrated a passionate desire to improve her own skills.
Although they are one of the smallest clubs in NSW, Bermagui are about innovation and embracing their local community.
The club capped off a stunning turnaround in 2017 when they were named Club of the Year at the Awards of Excellence and as a member of their executive, Cheryl was just one of many who played their part.
For McCarthy, volunteering is an important part of her identity, and as we celebrate National Volunteer Week, the lifesaver looks back on what it all means to her.
“Our little town has been so good to me, so welcoming and it feels good to be able to give something back. Every community relies on volunteers but I think in small towns the impact is even more pronounced. We have only 1,600 people in Bermagui so it’s important to have as many people as possible pitch in.
“In a small town many organisations simply wouldn’t exist without volunteers. Having a range of activities available where you live creates energy and opportunity for everyone.
“Surf lifesaving is a fantastic way to introduce our young kids to volunteering. It provides a safe and fun way to get kids involved and to show them that every little bit helps. Just offering to carry something for someone, or clean something down, is a way of making a difference and it’s important for us to instil this spirit as early as possible so volunteering to help, even in a very small way, just becomes natural,” McCarthy said.
Go to any surf club in Australia and you will find members pitching in doing whatever they can to help out their club. It’s not unique to the movement, but few organisations can match the sheer diversity of areas that are available for the members to try.
You can be a patrolling member and drive some of the most advanced rescue equipment on the planet, you can become a teacher, a mentor or a leader. The possibilities are endless.
For McCarthy it’s about identifying your own skillset and having the courage to put yourself out there.
“When I moved to Bermagui it seemed natural in a beach town to get involved in the surf club. Once I got started I realised that I had some skills that could be of use.
“That’s another special part of volunteering, you can choose to do tasks or jobs completely different from your normal day-to-day work to build experience or you can choose to use those skills you already possess to help out in a meaningful way. It’s your choice and I believe it helps inspire people to give more when they’re involved because they choose to be,” she said.
“Volunteering, particularly with Surf Life Saving, always brings a smile to my face. Whether helping with Nippers or training new Bronzies for example, it’s so rewarding to see the looks on their faces when they’ve just done something they didn’t think they could do. It makes me feel good to be a part of something that has just brought them such joy and a feeling of accomplishment.”
Despite her own lifesaving journey being only in its infancy, Cheryl McCarthy is rapidly building up a memory bank of amazing moments.
She cites her work with the Same Waves program which allows people living with a disability to participate in water activities in a safe environment while giving their parents and siblings a break to enjoy the beach as one of the true highlights.
“We had two new brothers doing their first Same Wave session. After some initial hesitation at leaving the boys with the team, their Dad went for a walk. When he came back he had a coffee in his hand and tears in his eyes.
“It was clearly an emotional moment for him but it brought tears to my eyes too as it brought home just what an incredible impact simple acts of giving your time and energy can make to others,” she said.
In a week where we celebrate the meaning of volunteers that is a powerful message to reflect on.
From May 21-27, SLSNSW will be celebrating the achievements of our wonderfully dedicated volunteers as part of National Volunteer Week. To find out more about this annual celebration of the unsung heroes of Australia, please click here
Wednesday 23 May 2018