Throughout bestchance Child Family Care’s long history of supporting families within the community, the organisation has relied on the dedication of their wonderful volunteers. This year marks a momentous occasion for the volunteer program, with two volunteers celebrating 30 years of offering their time and skills. Anne Soulsby and Val Murray have given their time to create lasting change in the lives of children and families.
Reflecting on their 30 years of service, Anne and Val shared insights into their journeys with bestchance. As two of the women behind bestchance’s annual running of the Lion’s Club Op Shop, they looked back on the beginning of the event and how it came to pass.
In 1989 bestchance (then titled the Child and Family Network) had a school on premises called the Berrengara School. The school catered for secondary aged students who had experienced social and academic difficulties. The Berrengara School aimed to provide ‘another chance’ for adolescents who were unsuited to the mainstream education system. These students would craft wooden toys, linen boxes, aprons, leather wallets and key-rings which were of such high quality they soon needed a store to sell them.
A shop was opened in Mulgrave, with items being sold to the local community, and the profits being put toward school expenses and excursions. Talented craftsmen themselves, both Val and Anne also contributed their own creations to the store. Val would make kitchen tidy baskets, lace-sewn hand towels, and storage boxes, while Anne knitted toys and cases to store pajamas in for children. The store soon became a place to drop in, with a chair for older people to sit on and tell their life stories. With a rapt group of volunteers and shoppers listening, people would share their journey and experiences. Each day, Val and the others would wheel out a large statue of a woman dressed in a spotted red dress to let the public know they were open.
Whenever there was help needed, the two have always been ready to lend a hand. One Christmas, Anne noticed two bestchance staff setting up the Wishing Tree Appeal looking exhausted. Springing into action, Anne rallied the volunteers who worked the shop to become involved with the Wishing Tree project. They would put together 200 boxes of food to give to families in need. One year they made 340 relief boxes to gift to the local community. The volunteers would also wrap the toys that were donated for children so that everyone experienced the joy of Christmas.
Not content to stop there, when Anne and Val heard of a mother who had come to bestchance for support, the volunteers considered how they could help. When it was suggested that she might benefit from assistance with cooked meals, the volunteer team created a casserole roster. Every six weeks the group would make 60 casseroles and freeze them for families, with leftovers from the local bakery donated for children’s lunchboxes.
The Sew and Sews have been another area in which Val and Anne have shone, creating handmade clothing and toys for children of families receiving a service from bestchance. Looking back on the group’s inception, the pair remember a woman called Rose who bought in her own sewing machine to repair dress ups, sheets and anything that needed mending. As the word spread, requests for help started flying in, which led to the volunteers bringing their own sewing machines to meet the demand. Damaged items from the Childcare Centre and The Cheshire School were brought in. The women also started making calico library bags for the school students.
Last but certainly not least, the two volunteers looked back on the Lion’s Club Mt Waverley Op Shop. For the past 17 years, bestchance has been selling donated items through the shop, run by Anne and the team of volunteers. Through their commitment to bestchance and its services, they have raised over $36,000 in profits from the Op Shop, all of which has gone towards maintaining high-quality community support.
Anne and Val who have now been with the bestchance team for three decades have lent a hand with anything and everything during this time. From Bunnings BBQs, to community events, Val and Anne offered their time and efforts to help ensure success. Because the volunteers don’t work directly with the families, they love to receive feedback on how their contribution has made a difference. Making families lives better has been the main focus and the dedication to assisting families in such a practical way is outstanding.
Anne Soulsby has earned the nickname ‘Dynamo’ from her fellow volunteers, due to her amazing energy. She has proven to be a strong and efficient team organiser, driven by her passion for assisting local families. Looking after bestchance’s annual running of the Lions’ Club Op Shop, Anne coordinates volunteers and store members and works with the team to sort through the thousands of donations received. Those who work with Anne speak highly of the kindhearted volunteer. She is always on hand with a supply of chocolate biscuits for her team, ready to lend a hand in any way she can. With her can-do approach to any task she receives, Anne’s amazing ability to give her time and energy over the years is recognised and appreciated by those she works with.
Val Murray is a quiet achiever, having spent the past thirty years volunteering at bestchance in many different roles and helping out in any way she could. However, she is best known for her terrific sewing skills in the Sew and Sew groups, making hat bags, smocks, sensory mats, cot sheets and much more for the early years programs. Her fellow volunteers love working with Val, who is always working hard, yet ready to have a laugh and hear a good story. Always interested in those around her, Val’s sense of humour, her kindness (as an excellent gardener, she is always generous in sharing seeds and cuttings from her garden) bring joy to all those lucky enough to work with her.
To mark the 30 years of their time and dedication to the community, the bestchance Volunteers team would like to especially thank the two for their contributions over the years. They both have brought “gentleness, kindness, and thoughtfulness to their hours of volunteering over the years and the local families have benefited greatly from their 30 years (each) of contribution to bestchance.”
“We want to take this opportunity to thank Anne for her years of dedication to make so many lives that much better.”
“Val’s continued dedication to bestchance is amazing and her consistent contribution is greatly appreciated as she has worked to help the lives of families in the community.”
Thank you to both these incredible volunteers, and congratulations Anne and Val on 30 years helping families in Melbourne.
Have a look at some of the photos below from Anne and Val’s morning tea, hosted by the volunteers team.