Finding meaning as a JRS volunteer

JRS volunteer Richard Letch.

JRS volunteer Richard Letch.

“It’s interesting talking to my family, who are probably slightly ignorant of a lot of the issues – as I think a lot of Australians are who are fed what I believe to be media spin suiting a political advantage,”

Late last year Richard Letch decided to make a change in his life by giving back to society. Just months later, he had already made a difference to someone else’s life – that of a refugee who was on a bridging visa and needed help filling out a job application.

“That was good, to be able to help someone whose English isn’t at fluency [level], and who needs some help in that area,” Richard recalls.

“It’s hard enough for us applying for a job, so for someone who doesn’t have English as a first language – well, it was good to help him through that process.”

It was just the sort of contribution the Sydneysider had hoped to make. As part-owner of a café in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Richard found himself becoming jaded by the ‘first world problems’ that so often proliferate in affluent parts of Australia. Keen to bring some balance to his outlook, he started looking around for volunteer opportunities. A friend suggested JRS.

“I didn’t know anything about the organisation until I arrived for the volunteer training day and it was at that training that I was given an overview of what the organisation stood for,” he says.

“It gave me a window into JRS, and resonated with me in terms of their outreach to refugees and as something I might want to pursue. I’d always been quite concerned as to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers, and I was looking for something in my life that might give it a bit more meaning.”

Richard joined JRS just as it was about to launch its new Parramatta hub, Arrupe Place. He was on call when it opened in early January, and spent his early days as a volunteer helping to get the centre ready for its first clients. Now he spends one day a week as an onsite volunteer serving as a point of contact for asylum seekers who either drop in or have appointments with JRS caseworkers. And while he’s never worked with refugees and asylum seekers before, Richard says his strong hospitality background has helped to inform his role at JRS.

“I guess a certain amount of understanding and compassion and maybe reading into people’s needs is inherent in my day-to-day work in the café, so hopefully that translates to this role as well.”

His involvement with JRS has also served as a conversation-starter with friends and family – and is, by necessity, transforming Richard into an advocate for the people he serves.

“It’s interesting talking to my family, who are probably slightly ignorant of a lot of the issues – as I think a lot of Australians are who are fed what I believe to be media spin suiting a political advantage,” he says.

“Hopefully through talking about my experiences and things that I learn here at the organisation there’s some possibility for change in their perceptions on asylum seekers and refugees that might spill over into their networks.”

Ultimately, Richard sees his job as one in which mutually beneficial relationships are forged.

“[It’s about] learning more about refugees and asylum seekers, hopefully making a change in someone’s life – a more significant change than [I could make] in my day-to-day work,” he says.

“It’s rewarding to be able to work with people who have what I would deem to be more serious problems [than those of my own community] – trying to finding work, trying to exist in a new country and even trying to get into that country in terms of seeking asylum and moving on to refugee status.”

If you are interested in volunteering with us at Arrupe Place, Parramatta, please contact Sr Margaret Guy at arrupevolunteers@jrs.org.au.

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