Y NSW pays tribute to bingo heroes this National Volunteer Week

It may be the thrill of the jackpot win that first hooks a player to bingo, but it’s the tight-knit sense of community, companionship and family that keeps many players on the Central Coast coming back multiple times every week.

The Y NSW (formerly the YMCA) runs nineCommunity Bingosessions a week across six clubs from Bateau Bay to Budgewoi, providing hundreds of otherwise isolated locals with the opportunity to form lifelong connections. All profits from the program fund vital support programs for youth on the Central Coast.

DuringNational Volunteer Weekfrom May 17 to 23, the Y NSW is paying tribute to the committed group of locals behind bingo, who over the program’s 35-year history have racked up an incredible 158 years of volunteering between them.

This year’s theme ofRecognise. Reconnect. Reimagineresonates with the team’s eldest volunteer, charismatic 79-year-old Peter Alexander. Pete has been volunteering for just under 14 years and travels a two-hour round trip at least twice a week to call bingo at Gosford Leagues Club and Avoca. He said the ‘memorable moments’ make the drive well worth it.

“We came back after COVID and hadn’t played for such a long time. I got up on the stage and said, ‘Welcome everybody!’, and they stood up on their feet and they all clapped and started singing out ‘Geez we missed you Pete!’ and I felt so warm and really nice inside… and I said not as much as I missed you,” Pete said.

“From then on I think they had me won. When you first meet you don’t know them… but over the years seeing them two times every week they become like your own family.”

Bingo Manager Joanne Ryan first got involved with the program as a volunteer 27 years ago after moving from Queensland. She now manages Bingo Coordinator Jodi Woods and eight volunteers: Diann Curry, Steven Holstein, Anna Yates, Peter and Judy Alexander, Stephanie Sell, Diana Saunders and Matthew Smith.

“All of our volunteers do such a great job. We probably don’t tell them enough, but they are very, very appreciated we couldn’t do it without them. It’s that simple,” she said.

Coordinator Jodi Woods also volunteered for 27 years while raising her children. She said having the same faces greet players at sessions is essential.

“They don’t like change a lot, our patrons. They like the same callers because they get used to a tone of voice. Some of them are deaf, we have players who are 99 years old, so a lot of change can be upsetting,” she said.

“To have volunteers that are willing to continue coming day after day, year after year is a massive thing.”

Executive Leader of Youth and Community Louisa McKay said as well as acting as a social hub for seniors, the bingo program ensures the survival of several Central Coast initiatives aimed at supporting at-risk local youth. 

“Bingo has funded theBreakfast Programfor over 12 years now – with an average of 8,000 attendances every year, that’s 96,000 slices of toast, juice drinks and fruit given out to school students who may not be able to access a healthy breakfast,” she said.

“Contributing more than $100,000 towards essential youth programs annually, the program has also allowed us to set up aY Spacein Lake Haven, supporting young people with ourStreetgymand employment programs and offering young people advocacy, information and referral services through theCall A Youth Workerinitiative.

“The Y NSW cannot thank our volunteers enough for enriching and improving the lives of residents young and old on the Coast,” she added.

Bingo runs somewhere on the coast every day of the year bar Good Friday and Christmas Day with sessions at Gosford, Wyong, Budgewoi, Avoca, Bateau Bay a new session launched at Mingara on May 7.

Y NSW Youth and Community programs including Youth Parliament, Y Spaces an Uplift are supported by more than 70 volunteers across the state.

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