Veteran volunteer manager hangs up her hat

  • by Kate Bowman
  • March 2, 2023

Karen Rudge has been the Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator at the Taree Community Health Centre for fifteen years, tirelessly supervising her community visiting volunteers. Despite enjoying her job immensely, the time has come for her to hang up her hat and move on to the the next phase of her life.

Karen is not keen on calling it retirement although she is sure she won’t be returning to work in a big organisation like NSW Health in the future. Karen lives on a hundred acre bush property surrounded by state forest and bushwalks. She and her husband built their home themselves out of old logs and recycled timber 37 years ago and there is plenty to keep her busy there tinkering in the house and garden or getting crafty creating mosaics and lead lighting. They both love the outdoors and will be sure to fit in some time together camping and traveling.

Karen is blessed with a big family and expects between helping care for her 94 year old Mum and the six grandkids living nearby she will be pretty busy but is still thinking about maybe doing some volunteer work too.

Speaking with Karen just before she finished up I asked her to share with us some of the highlights and lowlights of her role. She tells me COVID was definitely a lowlight. With the world frozen in uncertainty it gave her time to rethink her priorities and contributed to her decision to leave.

What Karen enjoyed most about her role was recruiting and training new people. She found when people got the opportunity to learn about end of life they inevitably have to confront their own feelings about end of life and this typically leads to personal growth.

“I’ve learned so much about group work and managing people in that zone, which has developed me as a person. I remember one time we were going around the room and if we wanted we could speak about our experience of loss and death. That was a big mistake because people shared very traumatic deaths and it reminded me that death isn’t for old people, it happens to us all. As the one responsible for their emotional safety I had to learn to navigate this with them.

I found for me personally, I had the perfect background and training for this role. I have a degree in social science with majors in communication and community development. I did a Frontline Management course and many years ago I completed the Certificate IV in Volunteer Management through The Centre for Volunteering. That certificate helped me to understand that managing volunteers was different to managing people in other settings.

“The best advice given to me when I was a new volunteer manager was ‘Karen, you’ve got to be ruthless at interview’. This advice went such a long way because ultimately the success of the whole program leans on recruiting the right people for the job. You need to ensure the expectations meet the role and if this works well for the volunteers it will work well for the whole service.

The other thing Karen really loved about her role was taking her volunteers to the volunteer conferences. “We all loved it and they had a great time, especially the one down at Nan Tien Temple. I was lucky my health service was supportive and paid for my volunteers to attend. They even provided us with a mini van and we made the road trip down together. So much fun.”

Karen wasn’t able to attend the quarterly meetings for the NSW Network of Managers of Palliative Care Volunteers as much as she’d have liked.

“Even though I wasn’t always an active member due to conflicting work schedules I always felt a part of it and was so grateful for all the support over the years from more experienced managers.”

On behalf of the network, we would all like to extend you a fond farewell, Karen, and wish you all the best in your future.

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NSW Network of Managers of Palliative Care Volunteer Services – December meeting & Christmas lunch

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