1 March 2024

Tender calls out for more valuable volunteers to help families through loss

| Jen White
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Two women sitting in a garden.

Tender Funerals Illawarra general manager Nadine Gills and volunteer coordinator Jade Kelly in the garden of the Port Kembla office. Photo: Jen White.

When Tender Funerals started operating out of the converted Port Kembla fire station in 2016, it had one funeral director. Today Tender Illawarra has 10.

Its success since then – there are Tender branches in 14 Australian communities – is due in no small part to providing affordable funerals, but also to its focus on educating people about the process and how it can be made more personal and meaningful.

Nadine Gills is Tender Illawarra’s general manager and one of its funeral directors.

“We’ve grown so much, the building has expanded, the team has expanded and our reach has expanded – we’re becoming more well known and recognised in the community,” she said.

Nadine started with the not-for-profit as a volunteer and along with fellow funeral director and volunteer coordinator Jade Kelly, she’s looking for more helpers to donate their time to Tender in a variety of roles.

READ ALSO Tender expands across country to help families farewell loved ones in affordable, personal funerals

They agree that Tender was built on the backs of volunteers and was made possible by the dedicated community members who freely gave their labour and helped raise funds.

“The volunteers do a whole range of things with us, they might assist on a funeral, assist with transport, provide care in the mortuary, do administrative tasks, lots of odd jobs,” Nadine said.

“At the moment we would love some volunteers to help us in the garden. We’ve nearly finished the landscaping but the maintenance of the garden is a lot more than we can handle.”

Volunteers are given on-the-job training and are welcome to work the hours that suit them.

“It’s a very, very dynamic environment and it moves very, very quickly. As funeral directors we need to be really adaptable, but the volunteers have such variety in their day,” Nadine said.

“It’s fair to say most of our volunteers are interested in after-death care, so they’re quite informed and they act as advocates for us in the community.”

Jade said volunteers were vital to Tender’s operations because they helped to keep funeral costs down for families.

“They more or less act as an assistant to the funeral director, shadowing them,” she said.

“It frees up the other staff to be available for phone calls or other family members who come in. They’re very valuable to us.”

A painted coffin.

A handpainted cardboard coffin, one of the burial options at Tender Funerals. Photo: James Coleman.

Right from the start, Tender aimed to educate communities and dispel some of the common myths around death and funerals.

“Tender’s a bit more holistic, we support the bereavement process and have an after care program where we check in [after the funeral] and see if they need any extra support,” Jade said.

“We’re not trying to sell people anything, we’re asking people how they want a funeral to happen, and we’ll make it happen. There’s no stock standard way of having a funeral, it’s very individualised.”

Tender makes families aware they can have options to care for their loved one at home until they feel ready to say goodbye, they can help wash and dress them, and can have a funeral at a place and time of their choosing.

Nadine said explaining options and giving choice to people were vital – “we don’t know what we don’t know”.

READ ALSO A peaceful place to spend the rest of your life – naturally after death

“We let people fit into their own time frame, we let families lead that and just be with the family on their journey,” she said.

In their experiences, Nadine and Jade are aware that having conversations about death, and recording requests for after death care, can make the grieving and funeral process easier.

“People tend to avoid the subject because they don’t want to think about themselves dying – ‘If I don’t think about it it won’t happen,’” Jade says.

Their advice to families organising a funeral is to take their time in making decisions.

“There’s no real rush to do it – you really only do get one shot at having a funeral,” Jade said.

“That’s why we have all the options available because you want them to be able to say yes, I had the funeral exactly how I wanted it.”

For more information on Tender Funerals Illawarra and about volunteering options, click here.

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