Some people are addicted to alcohol, others to cigarettes, but one young woman is addicted to helping others.
By Laura McKee
Casey McDermott can’t get enough of the drug they call ‘volunteering,’ something she believes more young Australians should aspire to in their lives.
Casey has been volunteering with Saint John Ambulance Australia for 10 years, since she was eight years old.
St John Ambulance Australia is a self-funding charitable organization active in all states and territories, dedicated to helping people in sickness, distress, suffering or danger: a charity Casey fell in love with.
“I had no social activities as a kid because my mum worked full time,” she said.
“So I looked in the paper one day and found this article about Saint John Cadets and I went along and never left.”
The second year James Cook University Pharmacy student is now 18 years old, the longest serving member, and highly respected cadet leader.
She’s soft-spoken, modest and talks about her volunteering career with a big grin.
“It’s very rewarding, not just the work you do, but the people you get to do it with,” she said.
“You realise you really enjoy doing that and it gives you all of these outlooks on life.”
With over 1000 hours of public duty service under her belt, having won prestigious awards and mentored many young cadets, Casey seems to be the pin-up girl for St Johns.
Although it wasn’t an area she was particularly interested in, Casey was persuaded by her team leader, Aaron Del Pino, to embark on an Antipodeans Abroad and St John Youth Health Placement Team trip to Mao Sot, Thailand in November 2012.
The trip was a life-changing, four-week experience that Casey speaks about with the utmost gratefulness and pride.
“Thailand was really about going to this very remote community, and volunteering with the Mae Tao clinic which is a free clinic specifically targeted for the Burmese refugees and migrants,” she said.
Casey and the 11 other volunteers educated the poor community about health and sanitation, donated medical supplies to the clinic and offered toys for the orphanage. Casey and the team carried out simple acts that made an impact.
“We didn’t make Mae Sot a better place but for individual people, knowing how to brush your teeth and wash your hands, things like that they will take with them,” she said.
“I never set out to do overseas stuff but it’s another form of addiction.”
Watch this short clip of Casey’s experience in Thailand.
Casey encourages all young people to go on an international volunteering journey to kick-start the obsession of helping others.
“Try and pursue it. You make fantastic friends and the people I went with are brand new besties for life. It’s incredibly worthwhile,” she said.
Casey has since won the Norma Bell National Youth Leader Award, which rewards young members for their activity as leaders, whilst promoting their contributions on a national stage.
Chair of the Australian Youth Council with St John Ambulance and team leader of the Thailand trip ,Aaron Del Pino, said Casey is a natural leader.
“She’s very heavily involved with her vision in Queensland,” he said.
“I think she’s very deserving of the award with the amount of hours she puts in and the amount of time she spends tailoring the cadet program and preparing cadets for competition.”
Casey’s fellow St John cadet leader and friend of four years, Louise Burridge said she’s “probably the best First Aider in Queensland”.
“She’s really dedicated and passionate, loves what she’s doing and she’s good at it. So it’s a good combination,” Ms Burridge said.
“She’s pretty much a role model for everyone.”
In July 2012, Casey received the Brigadier Max Simkin Youth Leadership Award for Queensland and was also named the Queensland Cadet of the Year from 2009-2010.
Research studies from Volunteering Australia show there is a lack of young people steeping up to volunteering roles and the youth of today aren’t as inclined to volunteer as the older generations.
The report, State of Volunteering in Australia, found people aged 35-44 and 65-77 were more likely to volunteer than those in the younger age groups and showed that “young people view the term ‘volunteer’ differently to other age groups.”
“This term does not resonate with them in the same way. The work of ‘volunteering’ was perceived by most young people interviewed for the Youth Leading Youth research as ‘inappropriate of their work and not a label they would place on themselves,” the report read.
Casey also suggested the concept of volunteering isn’t perceived as well as she would like among the youth.
“I think that a lot of young people are sort of turned off the idea of ‘volunteering’ because I think the term, ‘volunteering’ has sort of garnered a stigma over the years, and has a reputation for being boring,” she said.
“I do think that young people should aspire to volunteer more, but only if they’re doing it in a way that they will enjoy.
“I think that it’s just a case of finding that place where you fit, a niche, if you will.”