Bellingen’s Lily McDonald is one of many Australians who give their time to help others.
Bellingen’s Lily McDonald is one of many Australians who give their time to help others. UTE SCHULENBERG

Giving back reaps own rewards

LILY McDonald doesn't really know where her passion for volunteering came from - it's just a habit she's had forever, "since I was 14."

The energetic president of the Coffs Coast Business Women's Network is one of thousands of Australians who offer their time and skills free-of-charge to their communities and who were celebrated this week by the United Nation's International Volunteer Day.

"It's funny because no-one else in our family volunteers but I did grow up surrounded by women who had a strong sense of social justice," the Bellingen-based Mrs McDonald said.

"My grandmother was always taking in strays and waifs and feeding them and my mother imparted the rule of thumb that you never say 'can't'.

"She was an inspirational woman, who mothered us with humour and irreverence in spite of having a severe physical disability."

Starting with the RSPCA, through her teenage years Lily joined the United Nations Youth Branch and Green Peace.

More recently when her oldest son required extended hospital stays she and her husband Niel founded 'Toys for Joy' on the Gold Coast.

"We got locals and businesses to donate toys, laptops, DVD players and MovieWorld to lend us costumes, then we spent Christmas Day giving them out and having fun in the Children's Ward…it brought so much joy."

For her volunteering helps keep life in perspective.

"We are hard-wired to get caught up in the dramas of life and we forget just how good our lives are," she said.

"It doesn't take much to give something back and the rewards are enormous."