EVERY other weekend, Danielle Biviano puts aside a day to spend with new friend Chelsea Haag-Witherden.
From an outsider's point of view, it would appear their friendship is nothing out of the ordinary — in the six months they have know each other they've gone to the movies, the zoo, shopping, bowling and the city; they just enjoy hanging out.
Through not-for-profit organisation Extended Families Australia, Ms Biviano, a 25-year-old Tecoma resident, is one of the few volunteers in the Yarra Ranges willing to help out families who have a child with a disability.
In this instance, Ms Biviano helps out the Haag-Witherden family and their 13-year-old daughter Chelsea, who has autism spectrum disorder — and who she describes as "just like a little sister".
"Chelsea brings out so much in my life, just as much as what I bring out in her," she says.
"I have the time to volunteer and give back to the community so I do. It's really nice to develop a one-on-one relationship and get involved in someone else's life.
"I guess I've now got a deeper understanding of the struggles families have with a child with a disability."
Ms Biviano says she doesn't know why there is a lack of people putting up their hands to do similar work, although she feels it could be "an awareness-raising thing".
Chelsea's mother Wendy describes Danielle as "invaluable", a helping hand she can rely on.
The Ferntree Gully mother has two other children who also have disabilities and says the time that Ms Biviano gives allows Chelsea to do activities she "simply can't commit to doing".
"It's a lot of fun from Chelsea's point of view. From my point of view, it's someone to teach her new things and individual living skills."
Mrs Haag-Witherden says all parents are slightly anxious when a volunteer first works with their child, but Ms Biviano had now "become part of the family".
She also says volunteer shortages are worrying.
"It is, but I can kind of understand it. It takes a unique person to do the job."
Eastern regional co-ordinator at Extended Families Carol Belford says she is having little success finding volunteers in the area.
"We do have an issue here. For some unknown reason, in the Shire of Yarra Ranges we don't seem to get volunteers. I don't know if it's a geographical thing or what," she says.
While the waiting list for families requiring volunteers in nearby Maroondah is smaller, the organisation is continually on the lookout for those willing to help.
Volunteers are required to commit for one year and they don't require any previous experience.
All relevant training is provided.
For more information on becoming a volunteer, visit extendedfamilies.org.au or call 9285 4837.