Volunteering his time to help others and bring about positive change is what makes Mark ‘Buster’ Keeton an unsung hero in our community.
Buster spends countless hours each week volunteering not with one organisation, but four!
“For the last 18 months I have been volunteering with Orange Sky, Disaster Relief Australia, Mates4Mates and 4 Voices,” Buster said.
“Previously I also did 12 months volunteering with Food Bank.”
In honour of National Volunteer Week, which runs from May 16-22, Buster shares with Moreton Daily what he loves most about his roles.
“For me, if I want to go and feel good about myself, a good way to do that is to go and volunteer and help other people,” he said.
“That feeling you get when you help someone, or give them a little dignity, it’s an amazing feeling knowing you have made what seems a small difference, actually turns out to be a big difference in their lives.
“When you go to a job you work every day, you don’t always see the rewards from the effort you put in. But every day when I volunteer, I see those rewards firsthand.
“If I can give someone a hot shower and that makes them smile, it’s rewarding. If I am helping someone with disaster relief and it makes the huge task a little easier, that’s rewarding. If I write a blog and it resonates with a veteran who is struggling to return to civilian life, that’s a big reward.”
Buster is a familiar face in the Moreton Bay Region as he takes out the Orange Sky van to help people who are in need of clean clothes and a hot shower.
“With Orange Sky I do two shifts at Redcliffe and one in Beenleigh,” he said.
“I also occasionally fill in as a driver to cover other shifts.”
Buster recently spent 10 weeks in a town called Coraki in northern New South Wales helping with flood recovery efforts as part of Disaster Relief Australia.
Disaster Relief Australia unites the skills and experiences of Australian Defence Force veterans, emergency responders and civilians to rapidly deploy disaster relief teams domestically and around the globe.
For Buster, who served 22 years in the Royal Australian Navy, working with veterans and veterans’ organisations is very close to his heart.
While in northern New South Wales, Buster helped people who lost everything due to the extreme weather event that saw floods ravage the area.
“A lot of houses went underwater, so we were ripping up floors, relaying driveways, cleaning mould, clearing fences and taking away rubbish from the riverside,” he said.
“We were working in teams of four, and we would do an eight-hour shift, so essentially, we were able to do the equivalent of a week’s worth of work for them in that one shift.
“Those people were in a bad way, and they didn’t know where to even start. So by us going in to help them, it lifts them psychologically and gets their momentum going.
“A lot of people also just wanted to talk and vent about what happened. They couldn’t talk to their neighbours because they had gone through the exact same thing.”
Having served in the military, Buster knows the challenges that veterans face when leaving the service and returning to civilian life.
With that knowledge and wisdom, he writes blogs for Mates4Mates, a not-for-profit organisation that helps to provide support, rehabilitation and hope to those who have served, and their families.
“I really like helping to bring awareness about veterans and their struggles,” Buster said.
“When a veteran leaves the military, it’s not an easy transition - I talk about the challenges they face and how they may feel.
“They might feel lonely or left out of society because the culture of civilian life is very different to the military.
“If I can help them or point them to where they can get support or down a different path to the one they are currently going on, then that’s great.”
Buster likes to walk around the streets with a Zimmer frame and his Mates4Mates shirt as it gets people asking about the cause.
The last organisation Buster volunteers for is called 4 Voices, which offers connections to girls and women who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing social isolation, domestic and family violence, homelessness and digital exclusion.
“This organisation helps to connect women and girls with the rest of the world,” Buster said.
“Often when these women and girls are in a situation where they must leave in a hurry, they don’t have a laptop, let alone a place to live.
“I take a van down to Musgrave Park once a week and it is a place where women and girls can come if they need help getting a resume done, or need help getting a MyGov account set up so they can access Centrelink, need a sim card or just Wi-Fi to get online and do what they need to do.
“We are helping them to access the services they need and stay connected with people so they can move forward with their lives.”
With Buster finding so much fulfillment in his various roles, he would like to encourage others who are thinking of volunteering to take a chance.
“There are so many organisations out there that need your help - if you are wanting to do something and feel good about yourself, volunteering is a great way to achieve that,” he said.
“If you can dedicate four hours of your fortnight, that will make a very big difference. Depending on where you live, four hours out of 336 hours is nothing.
“You can help give someone dignity by providing them with clean clothes, a hot shower, something to eat, access to Centrelink – all things that we take for granted.
“If you see someone out there volunteering, you can go and ask questions and find out more about their roles.”
National Volunteer Week is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteering.
This year it will be held from May 16-22.
The theme for this year’s event is Better Together, because volunteering brings people together and helps to create a better society for everyone.
National Volunteer Week is a chance for the community to celebrate and recognise those who go above and beyond to make their neighbourhoods a better place.
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