It’s the end of the year and also the end of the two-year term for Sabine Walsh and Rachael Lloyd-Pӧtscher as Vienna Family Network’s President and Vice-President. They kindly agreed to be virtually interviewed by me, Erin Kogan, VFN Volunteer Coordinator and Blog Coordinator (on the side of the side!).
It’s been an honour to serve on the Steering Committee together and I wholeheartedly thank Sabine and Rachael on behalf of the entire VFN for their dedicated drive and vision. Together they took a fantastic non-profit organisation steering it through a rather rough patch of history (read: global pandemic) and made it even better – as they say here: doppelt hält besser which I’m going to take as two years, two amazing souls, twice as nice!
How did you learn about the Vienna Family Network?
In January 2016 when it was still called the Vienna Babies Club. We had just arrived in Vienna with our children aged 1, 3 and 5. They had a space at kindergarten but it was only starting in February. As it was so cold, I was desperate for any indoor activity! The Open House was held in a church hall in the 1st district: it was warm, the kids could play and I had a drink and a chat which was exactly what the doctor ordered.
However, I did not join VBC on that day because I thought I didn´t need to be part of a baby group as my kids would be in kiga but I exchanged phone numbers with the Open House Coordinator. She became a wonderful friend and helped me so much during my first year in Vienna!
Do you remember your first contact / meet-up with the VFN?
I ended up joining VFN in December 2016 when I was pregnant with my fourth child. I still remember meeting all those heavily pregnant ladies in a café and the scared looks from the staff who were probably dreading one of us going into labour in front of them. The first meeting can be a bit intimidating but our baby group coordinator was lovely. That day I sat next to someone called Katharina…little did we know that three years later, we would be the VFN President and Treasurer!
What advice would you give to international families moving or living in Vienna?
Don´t do like I did!
- VFN is so much more than baby groups! You may feel that your kids are too old for baby groups but now is the perfect time for you to make new friends and ease your way into this warm, welcoming and supportive community
- Don´t wait until you are ready to give birth to join – the baby groups are usually up and running early on. If it is your first pregnancy or your first in Austria, there is so much to learn from other parents and so many questions your baby group can answer.
- Volunteering is the hidden gem of VFN so start as soon as possible. There are many things available based on what you already know or are interested in learning. It is the best way of building incredible friendships with wonderful parents, boost your self-esteem and give a proper workout to your zygomatic muscles.
You’ve lived many places over the years, what typically Viennese (or Austrian) traditions will you cherish and keep as a custom in your family?
The independence children have here, they are trusted to go on their own to school at an early age and take public transport on their own without standing out. At first, I was pretty shocked and scared but now I can really see how my children have really thrived in this safe environment and how, as a parent, I am benefiting from this independence and self-confidence they have developed in Vienna.
As a parent of four children, would you be so kind to share a local Vienna tip with us?
Annual cards to zoos and museums are an amazing value especially when you end up spending only 30 minutes inside due to an unexpected “surprise.” It is great to know you can go back the next day or next week!
What will you miss most leaving Vienna (and the VFN)?
We made wonderful friends in Vienna who helped us when we needed them – becoming family more than friends. Saying goodbye is really hard, but I am confident we will stay in touch and our paths will cross again.
The VFN has been such a big part of my life since I started volunteering in 2018 and especially since I was elected President two years ago. I am so proud of our Steering Committee and members who weathered the Covid storm, supporting each other, keeping positive and innovative to keep the VFN going despite the exhaustion everybody was feeling. The VFN did not disappear, it did not stand still! New members kept joining, finding support and help despite the lack of physical meetings. Volunteers kept reinventing themselves to find new ways of coordinating groups, organising events and making sure our community could and would continue to thrive.
I met so many inspiring people, participated in so many exciting projects. I developed skills I did not even knew I had and felt really supported and appreciated by the people volunteering with me. Rachael and I had so much fun together (and a few stressful moments too) and our friendship is the best gift ever.
And last, but not least, what are you looking forward to in your next adventure?
I am so excited to move to Nairobi! We have already been introduced to friends of friends who live there and I look forward to meeting new people and discovering a totally different way of life.
I feel it is also time for me to go back to paid employment and continue to grow professionally, building on my past work experience and my fantastic time in the Steering Committee of the VFN.
But because you can move geographically and still be part of the VFN, my husband and I already knew that on December 9th, we’d will be in our hotel room in Nairobi, in front of our computer, ready for the next VFN Quiz Night!
As our outgoing Vice-President, what stands out to you most in the past two years?
When looking back I have a bad habit of thinking “there wasn’t that much that happened,” but that is definitely an understatement. The website and rebranding was clearly one of our main highlights. However what stood out for me, is having the chance to see how passionate and engaged our members are about the VFN. It is a community which supports each other and where we saw so much generosity in people’s actions.
You have held many volunteer positions as a VFN member in the past six years, what has been your favourite thus far?
Starting as the Baby Group Coordinator for March-April 2016 to coordinating VFN flea markets and Christmas events supporting others as Baby Group Liaison to Vice-President, it is clearly a delight to volunteer! Organising the flea markets probably stands out as one of my favourites. Why? Besides finding a love for gin cocktails, it gave me the chance / excuse to spend more time with friends. I love to organise things and see events come to life on the day so that was the perfect activity for me.
As a near “local” Viennese parent, would you share a few kernels of wisdom with members moving to Vienna with their families?
Vienna is great for kids! I would not have imagined this, but it always amazes me how many parks there are and how welcoming cafes and restaurants are to kids. There is so much available to do from pregnancy – baby days – toddler life (and next year I get to discover all the school kid opportunities!).
Here are some of my highlights and “how did you find out about that” tips:
- Baby Kino – It is so great to relax in the morning with a giant tub of popcorn and enjoy a movie. Haydn, Votiv and Lügner are some of the main places offering this. In case you are thinking “and if my baby cries?” Well, you are in a room full of sympathetic parents or other crying babies for company!
- Wien Xtra – Sign up online and you get a little booklet with activities available although I truly recommend a visit their location in MuseumsQuartier (and bring your kids for an amazing little indoor play area) and browse the curated resources of every possible parenting related need in Vienna.
- Water, water everywhere – Starting with the “Wasserspielplatz” at the Donauinsel (free!), our regular summer spot at the Gänsehaufel (best chicken wings in the city) and spending winters at the Therme Wien (reachable with the Ubahn!), we have so much fun splashing around with our kids.
What advice would you give to parents-to-be in Vienna?
–Take it step-by-step, if you think too far ahead, it makes everything seem scarier and more daunting, so take it slow.
–Join VFN and be active with the baby group as soon as you can – it helps to calm nerves and meet people who might have the answers you need. Bring your partner along as well so they can get to know who you will be talking about for the next years!
–Take advantage of the Austrian system on parental leave – the pay is great and fair for both parents! I’m proud that we created some surprised looks when my husband took one year off to look after our kids (advice to employers – do make sure to read the full date when you receive these emails).
Your husband is an active member albeit hiding at times in the shadows of social media… 😉 Together you make a real VFN power couple, may I ask for a memory of a time you two worked well together benefiting the VFN?
Definitely making over 100 mini pizzas to sell at the charity cafe at the flea market!
As the Volunteer Coordinator, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about your future volunteering plans with the VFN. Anything on your mind?
Starting next month, new families will get to meet me and little Bo as Open House volunteers. I think there is still one flea market in me, so keep your fingers crossed that we can organise one in spring 2022 with some enthusiastic new volunteers to support our current team!
Thank you again, Sabine and Rachael! You’re two of my all-time favourite VFN volunteers (and my list is rather long)! I wish you both well in your new adventures and much deserved “extra” free time after handing over your posts to Stephanie Weng and Marcella Cagnazzo. The VFN has been and will continue to be in good hands.
Wishing all our members a wonderful holiday season and strong start in 2022! –Erin