Community Spotlight: Saskia Groen, Volunteer at Community Northern Beaches Crisis Drop-in

Photo : Saskia 'babysitting' Sammy whilst his Dad sought respite from rough sleeping to spend some necessary time in hospital.

Photo: Saskia 'babysitting' Sammy whilst his Dad sought respite from rough sleeping to spend some necessary time in hospital.

Today is Saskia Groen's last regular Wednesday shift as a volunteer at Community Northern Beaches. We interviewed her about her role. Thank you for your huge contribution and for the mountains of kindness that you have shown to the guests of the Centre.

What is your role at Community Northern Beaches?

I am a volunteer on the reception desk. We are the meet and greet of the Centre. There are two of us in this role on any given shift and it’s always enjoyable and worthwhile.

How would you describe a typical day for you whilst volunteering?

Our role is to keep the little ‘drop-in’ part of Community Northern Beaches running with warmth and generosity. Our visitors include all sorts of people in need. Some are looking for a friendly face and a cup of tea, others need food clothes or bedding, some need important information and others need the help of the amazing staff. Whatever the need, it’s the job of the reception volunteers to make visitors, particularly those new to the Centre, feel welcome and safe. Sometimes our role is simply to give visitors a chance to sit and catch their breath.

What motivated you to get involved?

I have teenage sons. Six or so years ago I was driving along South Dowling Street in the city when I was approached at the traffic lights by a teenage boy asking for money. He was clearly sleeping rough and dealing with addition. I looked into this sweet, open, gentle boys eyes and saw my own kids. It was a pretty defining moment for me. I suddenly became so much more alert and conscious of the plight of homelessness, ever increasing numbers of Sydney’s rough sleepers, and the under resourcing of mental health services, rehab/detox, and social housing. I started as a volunteer for Missionbeat and soon became an employee. They are a city based homeless service so as a Seaforth resident I decided last year to support my own community as well and started as a volunteer with the amazing Community Northern Beaches.

Tell me about a particularly memorable moment during your time as a volunteer at the Centre?

Rough sleepers have usually been at the receiving end of judgment and disappointment so it often takes more than one visit for our visitors to trust enough to ask for assistance. So my most memorable moment is more like a sequence of moments - when I have been lucky enough to see an initially silent and withdrawn visitor finally turn to Daniel and share their situation and ask for help. Usually tears are involved.

What do you believe makes Community Northern Beaches special?

I think there is a genuine empathy and concern that both the staff and volunteers have for our visitors and for all people in need. I also think it’s rather lovely that the wider community on the Northern Beaches support the organisation as much as they do. Community Northern Beaches is clearly dear to the heart of our wider community which is really pretty wonderful.

What would your advice be to someone looking to reach out for help but doesn’t know where to start?

If you have a friend or relative you trust, share your concerns and needs with them. They may not know the answers but can walk alongside you as you start the next step. Then maybe get in contact with somewhere like Community Northern Beaches. Community centres are here to help you with the next step. And each step, no matter how small it may seem, is a movement in the right direction. Sometimes it may feel like you’re going backwards but you’re not. Our greatest concern is always for those that aren’t able to reach out for assistance for whatever reason, so please use the resources that are there for you. We really do want to help.