Organisations in the HIV/AIDS sector are honouring the contributions of the community this week, National Volunteers Week, hoping more will be inspired to get involved and lend a hand to help those in need.

ACON’s Community Support Network is run almost entirely by volunteers to provide home-based assistance for people living with HIV and AIDS, and calling for people to sign up for carer training in June.

The average client will be a gay man in his mid-40s who might be living in a public housing situation and trying to deal with living below the poverty line, CSN’s Colin Dent said.

They have a disability and they’re asking for assistance -“ they might be blind, on a walking frame, or in a wheelchair, but they’ve usually dealt with these things and just need some additional help with cleaning or shopping.

CSN runs an orientation program to prepare new carers for some of the situations they’ll be facing and pairs them up with a mentor for ongoing support.

We give this training because our volunteers are walking into someone’s home and delivering this practical, personal type of care, he said.

Dent said the training had changed a great deal since the early days in 1984, when it included palliative care, massage and bereavement, but now it focuses on understanding HIV and medications in the modern context along with basic nursing and protection for workers.

Usually we have enough people to attend to the clients we have but sometimes, like now, we suddenly have 13 more people on the books, he said.

Most of the people coming in are wanting to give something back to the community and do something altruistic, mostly gay men who have witnessed HIV in their lives.

One volunteer was a mother whose son came out to her and wanted to explore helping the gay community generally. She’d never knowingly met an HIV-positive person before.

ACON’s volunteer of the year, Breda Drumgoole, has been with CSN for more than 15 years.

She still does two clients, that’s one client a week in a two-week rotation -“ she’s a fabulous committed wonderful person, Dent said.

But if someone can just give us two hours every fortnight for six months then we’re grateful for it.

Dent said CSN and ACON also run social events for volunteers including barbecues, barefoot bowling and trivia competitions.

For Nev Matthews, a 65-year-old Cronulla surfer who recently signed up as a carer, it was a case of there but for the grace of God, goes he.

I was a very bad boy back in the 80s, so I’m very glad to have missed it myself -“ I wanted to repay some of the guys who weren’t as lucky as I, Matthews said.

One of my clients has been alienated from all his friends. So I tried to brighten him up by telling him about my experience on the all-gay cruise, and all the gossip, and we can talk about the spunks on Neighbours.

I’m only working two days a week now, so I’ve got more time and more to give. I feel better doing what I’m doing with CSN.

South East Health’s Ankali project, also recruiting volunteers for carers with training sessions in July, has a greater focus on emotional and social support and calls for a commitment of up to six hours per week.

For further information about CSN visit their website at or call 9206 2038. The Ankali project can be contacted on 9332 9742.

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