Danny finds a piece of paradise

News & Events

Danny finds a piece of paradise

May 24, 2018

Danny Wychowanko found his own personal Botanic Gardens when he started as a volunteer gardener at Rushall Park, OCAV’s village in North Fitzroy.

He couldn’t believe his luck when he wandered through the gates 15 months ago. He still can’t.

Danny, 63, came to Rushall Park as a volunteer under unusual circumstances. He had completed a Certificate Two in Horticultural Studies at Kangan TAFE and was receiving Newstart allowance while he looked for work. He was told he would lose the allowance unless he took a factory job. That’s until he found out that he could work as a volunteer in the community in return for a benefit.

“I was tickled pink when I first came for an interview and saw Rushall Park in all its glory and I am still overjoyed that I can work here,” he said. “As soon as I got to the front gate on the first day I though, yep, this is my place. It’s like my own little botanic gardens.”

Danny is one of 180 volunteers, ranging in age from 20 years to some in their 90s,who work across OCAV’s four villages. Ninety of the 180 volunteers are village residents. Most external volunteers work at Liscombe House, OCAV’s aged care facility at Leith Park.

Kim D’Angelis, OCAV’s Volunteer Coordinator, said the contribution, large or small, of so many people like Danny, helped create a cohesive and inclusive community. It’s something that OCAV celebrated across the organisation with Volunteer Week morning teas last week.

Danny works two days a week alongside head gardener Marika Pedrioliand assistant gardener Rhys Corr. Their work is determined by the seasons and the weather, but could involve weeding, mowing lawns, pruning the 1150 plus roses, mulching, planting or composting. He enjoys working outside, doesn’t mind the cold weather and loves the trees and flowers that come to life at different times of the year.

In the 15 months since he began, Danny has learned a lot from the Rushall Park gardeners that he has been able to use in the garden around his Brunswick home. He grows a variety of plants, but is especially keen on hedges.

“It’s nice to be able to learn new things and put the knowledge to good use. When we come to an area that needs work, it’s great to look back at the end of the day, or after a few hours, and see what a difference your work has made and think how good it looks,” he said.

It’s not just the gardens and coworkers that keep Danny happy at work; he loves the residents and is heartened by the gratitude they show for the work done in the gardens.

“I looked after my Mum until she died at 90 and I really enjoy being around the older people here who are very friendly. I do what I can and they appreciate it,” Danny said.

“My Dad who used to spend a lot of time in the garden when I was a young fella and I used to wonder why he was wasting his time. Now I get it, I know why he loved it so much.”

While Kim witnesses the benefits of volunteering for residents and volunteers every day, and Danny is experiencing it first hand, a recent study supports their view that volunteering is good for us.  Executive Style, an online site, published an article in April titled, Volunteering could be the real solution to being a happier person. The article said:

“If there was something you could do that would make you much, much happier, improve your health and it cost you nothing at all, you’d do it, yeah? You’d be stupid not to.
It’s called “volunteering” and it really is a magic happy pill.

A joint study by the London School of Economics and Harvard University, Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living, reveals the odds of feeling “very happy” rose seven per cent among those who volunteer monthly, 12 per cent for those whovolunteer every two to four weeks and leaped to 16 per cent in volunteers who give back every week.”

“People often say well done for making a contribution to the Rushall Park village. But Rushall Park has given so much to me,” Danny said.

Pete Zawacki drove to Leith Park twice a week to visit his mother, Helen, until her death a year ago. After she died he wanted to honour her memory and ‘repay’ the kindness staff showed her by volunteering.

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