Bianca Hams was homeless and living in a youth shelter, when she started volunteering with Red Cross and discovered her passion.
Bianca Hams, 21, was homeless and living at an Adelaide youth shelter when a Red Cross staff member invited her to consider volunteering. At the time Bianca had never thought about giving up her time to help others and was completely unaware of how to become a volunteer. Having come from a turbulent past, facing domestic violence in her family, bullying at school and dealing with mental health issues, Bianca saw volunteering as a great way to use her life experiences to help others and create a greater sense of purpose for herself.
"I thought it would be really cool to give back to the community and spend my time doing something I wanted to do," Bianca explained, "At first I wasn't really sure what I'd be volunteering for; I said put me down for anything. I just wanted to help out."
"I've worked since my early teens in hospitality and retail, but volunteering at Red Cross is a completely different field of work and I love it. It's very humanitarian and definitely makes me feel good - it just picks me up."
Despite currently being unemployed and homeless, Bianca is highly motivated to inspire others who might also be down on their luck. "Finding myself homeless has been one of the major things that has made me want to help people; I've been to women's shelters, I lived in a motel for a month," says Bianca, "I also had a lot of responsibility growing up as the eldest of seven children and experiencing domestic violence. I was bullied and I did get myself into little bits of trouble here and there. I kind of struggled through school making friends, but it's all brought me here."
"I've found my passion in volunteering and now I just want to get out there and help people."
Volunteering has given Bianca a feeling of purpose, a sense of responsibility and ownership.
Breaking the cycle
Along with a group of other young volunteers, Bianca is helping Red Cross to develop and deliver a program aimed at 12-15 year olds who are at risk of becoming involved in the youth justice system. The program will see the volunteers visiting schools to talk to students about peer pressure and making choices in sticky situations.
"The program will be about stuff you want to know - what to do if you see your friends taking drugs or drink driving, and letting kids know it's alright to say no to peer pressure, that it's not uncool," Bianca explains.
"We'll be seeking to change negative perceptions, like 'my mum or my dad's in prison, I'm probably just going to end up in prison as well' or 'I've been in trouble with the police once, I'm always going to be in trouble.'"
"No, your future's not predetermined because you've made a mistake in your past or your parents have done that. You're the keeper of your own story," says Bianca. "It's what I would've wanted to hear if I was 12 to 15 years old and still at school."
The plus effect
In addition to suffering from depression, Bianca was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder late last year. She says volunteering has been a great help to her for dealing with her mental health.
"It's made me think that I actually have a purpose. That's one thing about Borderline Personality Disorder, you feel empty, you feel worthless…I've had to summon up all my strength sometimes just to wake up everyday, but volunteering and knowing that I have to be somewhere, that Red Cross depends on me and my commitment, makes me feel good."
"It's very important to me. I feel that there is this sense of responsibility and this sense of ownership to coming here [to Red Cross], being committed to here, to actually helping or changing somebody's life without me knowing. For me I see this as something worthwhile that as something worthwhile that I don't want to let go of. That's what keeps me coming back. Magic may happen."
Photos: Australian Red Cross/Morne de Klerk