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National Volunteer Week 2021: Volunteering is Second Nature to RL Donna Griggs

Ask Donna Griggs why she volunteers as a Dairy Women’s Network Regional Leader, and you’ll see her passion for connecting rural communities shine through. Her journey with us started over a decade ago when she came along to events in South Whangarei and she loved the opportunities for knowledge building and supporting other women. When the Regional Leader at the time decided to step down, it was a natural choice for Donna to take up the role. Now living in Ruawai, helping Kaipara women build knowledge, make connections and support each other is what has driven her over the past decade and she’s never looked back.

“You become a nationwide family, part of something bigger than yourself and your business,” she says.

Donna has even been recognised for her volunteer work as the 2021 Regional Leader of the Year, an award she feels humbled to receive. Likening her various volunteer roles to her husband Steve’s work over 12 years as a volunteer firefighter, she says lending a hand when it’s needed comes naturally and it’s not something she does for recognition, but to be available when someone in the community is in desperate need of help. It’s also thanks to the farming lifestyle that she can help out her community when she’s got an hour to so free. “If I was maybe working in town, there may not be enough hours spare in the day to take on everything. So I do feel privileged – being self-employed and on the farm I can structure my day around the business and volunteering.”

It’s this flexibility that means she can offer riding lessons to a neighbour’s autistic son and give his mother a little bit of hope. “I knew a bit about his disabilities, but when I was at a college school prizegiving I saw his mother trying to keep him in his seat, and she was taking him outside every five minutes. I always heard what riding for the disabled horses did for children and I just thought – wow, I’ve got the perfect opportunity here.”

“The local church said to me that if I could come and pick up some gift baskets at Christmas and hand them around to families I thought might need them. I picked up a few and delivered them to some families including my neighbour, and just said to her ‘I’ve got an idea that might help your son. Would you like to bring him for riding lessons with our ex-RDA pony?’ So she brings him along when the weather’s fine and when we can fit it in, and he loves it – it’s like he’s been on a horse all his life. It’s just lovely to see the smile on his mother’s face.”

On top of riding lessons Donna also rears a beef calf for the local fire brigade each year and jumps in to help out with the school PTA and any fundraisers in the community. But nothing is done without the support of Steve and their children, who have picked up their mother’s habit of jumping in when help is needed. “There’s always something going on, and they will put their hand up to do what they can. It makes me very proud to see that.”

While volunteering is just part of life for the Griggs family, Donna has a couple of important lessons to share that have helped to guide her over the years and make sure the wellbeing of herself and her family comes first:

  1. Family and people are the foundations on which your business is built.

It’s important to remember that your business is built from people. Just like any structure, it needs a strong foundation to thrive and looking after the wellbeing of your people will increase your ability to balance work with any volunteer roles. Donna has found that prioritising her family and farm team has created a strong support network around her who are ready to pick up the ropes when Donna and Steve are volunteering. This has a flow-on effect to balancing the needs of the farm with the needs of the community. Of course, a couple of calendars and a Sunday night sit-down helps as well!

  1. Celebrate what you’ve ticked off the list, rather than get hung up on what you haven’t.

A simple lesson, but one that’s hard to learn! Remember that you can’t please everybody – just hold integrity and have faith in yourself, the rest will flow on.

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