Lisa Sprlyan has been a fixture at Orange Sky since almost the very beginning. She started out as a volunteer five years ago, before jumping in to a role at HQ in the Operations Team. Lisa has been on the ground for a staggering eight van rollouts, including one in New Zealand, and is our resident expert when it comes to ensuring our vans are making the biggest possible impact in the community. 

We sat down with Lisa to take a look back at some of her experiences and adventures over the past five years.

How did you first hear about Orange Sky and what made you want to apply to become a volunteer? 

Back in 2016, I was actually taking some time out from my previous career so had a bit of time on my hands. One day, I received a message from an old colleague in Melbourne, with the link to volunteer with Orange Sky in Perth. I opened the link and within minutes I had completed an online application to volunteer. Not long after, I received an invite to an ‘Orangetation’ (information session) and turned up to a small group of applicants, like myself, keen to know what Orange Sky was all about. During the session, I remember Jo (former Orange Sky CEO) asking me, “So, why do you want to be a Team Leader?” I sat back and said, “I’m just here to wash clothes but hey, I’ll give that a crack!”

Your first shift with Orange Sky was five years ago. Do you remember much from that first day? 

My first day with Orange Sky was memorable for many reasons! I was lying in bed and at around 7.20am, and I got a call from Alek (trainer) to say, “Hey Lisa, where are you?” My first response was, “Um… the shift doesn’t start until 9am?”

Somewhere along the line, I had gotten the wrong time. Anyway, I didn’t live far so I said I would be there in 15 minutes. My first Friday at the Tranby Day Centre in Perth was a busy one with several washes straight up. Given it was my first shift, Alek had so much to run me through so I was ready to train my new team the following week. One of those really important things was how to fill out an incident report. Just after completing a test report, I found myself involved in what we would refer to as a ‘red incident’. For obvious reasons, I can’t share exactly what happened, but I was so impressed with the support I received from Orange Sky in the minutes after that. I came back the next week, and the rest is history!

Have your perceptions or ideas around homelessness changed from when you first started with Orange Sky five years ago?  

Before being involved with Orange Sky, I’m disappointed in myself that I really didn’t have much of an idea of what was happening in my own city, let alone around the country. My eyes have been opened a lot over the last five years to the challenges around being homeless or simply doing it tough. Most of my time with Orange Sky has involved a lot of conversations with the many amazing organisations out there helping people in our communities. I have learned SO MUCH and feel so privileged to be part of what we all do together, helping those who just need a hand.

Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and give yourself advice when first starting out with Orange Sky, what would it be?  

When you’re heading out to shift for the first time, it can be quite overwhelming learning how to use the van, getting the washing sorted, meeting other new volunteers and thinking about what to say to our friends. My advice to any new volunteer is to just take your time and work together as a team. I guarantee within three to four weeks, your shift will run like clockwork. Remember that the people who use our services are everyday people, just like you, so strike up an everyday conversation as a starting point. The most important thing you can do is say ‘hello’.

You transitioned from volunteer to staff member in 2017, but you’re still very closely involved in the delivery of our service to friends. How important is it to stay connected to your community and be part of achieving positive outcomes for our friends? 

Since moving into a staff role with Orange Sky, I’ve held several roles but all of them give me touch points where I get to connect with our friends, volunteers and service providers – something that’s really important to me. Our mission is to positively connect communities and I think that having those personal connections is very powerful and helps to really drive outcomes for our friends. 

Can you share some of your biggest achievements or favourite moments from your time as a volunteer & staff member?

It’s very hard to pick one biggest achievement, and I have so many favourite moments – every shift brings something special. I’ve been a part of eight van launches across Australia (and New Zealand) and every single one is a highlight for me. A personal favourite moment for me was getting to meet Sunrise Weatherman, Sam Mac (I’m a bit of a fan!). 

I will always remember the moment I found out that two of our friends, George and Lizzie, found out they were getting a house. It was a very special and emotional moment for me and for them, and a memory that I will always think of with so much love.

Can you share a conversation or moment that’s stuck with you the most over the past five years? 

There are so many conversations I’ve had with friends all over Australia and in New Zealand. Many conversations that have sometimes left me fighting back tears, both happy and sad. Two that stand out were learning a friend found stable accommodation after living in a car for ten years, and seeing a friend who was living on the street learn they would soon have a job and their own place to live. 

My most common conversation is one that ends with, “Thank you so much for washing my clothes.” I never would have thought those few words would mean so much to both our friends and myself.

Are there any particular relationships that stand out for you? Maybe a story about a friend or volunteer whose journey you’ve been a part of?  

Being based in Perth, I’ve nurtured some great relationships with friends on shifts over this time.  One of the very first friends that I met was Allan. Allan and I have shared various adventures together during our respective Orange Sky journeys. Allan, if you’re reading this, I know we haven’t seen each other out on shift for some time, but know your Orange Sky family is still out there for you. Hope to see you soon!

Reflecting back on five years with Orange Sky, how important is a conversation?

In the early days of OS, everyone thought it was just a few people washing clothes. What we do is so much more. The conversation is the most important thing that can happen on shift. Just a simple ‘hello’ can brighten someone’s day, and a conversation where someone genuinely listens without judgement can change someone’s whole outlook.

Help to positively connect your community.

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