I know I should stop comparing now to then, or them to me/us, but my sense of selfcontrol fails me.  For decades I’ve watched the decline of the community taking care and responsibility for itself.

I always promised myself that when I got older, I wouldn’t be one of those oldies who says “back in my day”, but even that promise, which I’ve managed to keep for most of my adult life, is becoming a struggle and I find myself biting through my tongue to stop myself from saying “young people these days…..blah, blah, blah”.

24 years ago, when my now 30 year old son was turning 6, I took him to the local football (soccer) club to register him for his first stint in a team sport.  I was new to the area, and didn’t know many people, I was also house bound with a young baby so I was limited in what I could do during the day.  But what I did know was that I wanted to be involved in the lives of my children.  I wanted to make sure that whatever activities they were involved in where well run and were going to be good for them both physically and socially.

When I took my son “L” down to his first practice session, I saw a lady that I had recently met at my kids new school.  She saw me and waved, but was clearly super busy and didn’t have time to stop and make small talk.  A short while later, I saw her sitting by herself, so I went to her to say hello.  Maybe she was a new friend opportunity, and I really needed to make some new friends.  I knew no one in the area and I was really lonely.  Being a previously very social person, the loneliness was really getting to me.

So I said hello and we got talking.  She was the secretary of the club, and she regaled to me how busy she was and how she wasn’t coping between her kids sport, work and home.  I made one little innocent comment which was “I’ve got a bit of time on my hands, if there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know”.

With that she jumped up, asked me to put my hand out (the child in me said “ooooooh!!! I’m going to get a lolly”) and when I did as I was bid, she dropped a key in my hand and said “congratulations, can you look after the canteen for me?”  That’s how long it took me to become the Canteen Manager.

That was my introduction to voluntary community work.  That was the start of the most passionate affair I’ve ever had.  Not with another man, but with making my community, my little part of the world we live in, a better place.  Over the years, I went on to hold almost every role the club had to offer, and retired when my employer deemed that my voluntary service and my employment may be perceived a conflict of interest and required me to resign (a good decision on their part).

Though I was retired from service to the club, I never lost interest, and to this day I still serve the club in a small capacity that’s permitted by my employment.  I’m a life member, a privilege I hold dear.  Every year I still attend their AGM, to help with numbers, or to explain to incoming volunteers what help is available to them or to encourage someone who may be wavering on a decision to serve or not.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen a consistent and steady decline in the numbers attending the club’s annual meeting, and more so, I’ve seen a decline in the numbers of parents putting their hands up to volunteer, no matter how small the contribution.

“I’m too busy”, I hear all to often, or “I work so I can’t help”.  When I hear this tripe, I just want to arm myself with all the sarcasm I can muster and let these self-serving humans have it with both barrels.

I want to scream at them that the fees they pay for their kids sport would be multiplied by ten if their club had to pay someone to do all the work that the volunteers do for nothing.  I want to scream at them that I worked throughout most of my service time to the club, and that I was a very busy person, with many obligations…..but I managed it, and while doing so, made some of the best friends I’ll ever know.  I volunteered when we were poor, both in funds and time, but still I did it, because the community needs people to underpin it.

The underpinning that is given to a community group by a volunteer is worth so much more than the wages that would be paid to a worker, because what they do, they do for free and they do it with care and love and compassion.  They don’t do it because they’re getting paid, they do it because they’re great humans that care about their communities.

More and more these days though, what I’m seeing are the parents of players that were at the club 25 years ago, still volunteering, even though their children have grown and left the nest and moved on.  Still, their ageing parents are doing the voluntary work.

My children’s peers, who now themselves have children playing at the club are apparently too busy to help, but I tell you what, they’re not too busy to sit at their computer when they get home to write that strongly worded letter to the club to complain about the voluntary coach of their child’s team, or about how their little Johnny was overlooked for selection in the A team because all the selectors are idiots and don’t know what they’re doing.  Or, my personal favourite, “the committee is corrupt, their kid got selected but mine didn’t!”  Never stopping to think that maybe their kid just isn’t good enough, or that maybe that committee kid is better because they spent their after school hours, 4 days a week, down at the local football fields, practising, kicking a ball around, while their volunteer parent is serving their community for yet another year.

I once had a conversation with a Mum, during my service years, and she said “I honestly don’t know how you do it.  When do you find the time?  Don’t you ever relax?”  She then started to talk about TV and was astounded when she found out that I had no idea what TV shows she was referring to because I hadn’t sat down to watch TV in months!  I suppose that’s how I found the time.  That and being both a good time manager and a chronic insomniac 🙂

The club in question was faced with the prospect of folding.  Closing it’s doors (or fields) to the kids in the district because of the chronic lack of commitment.  It’s terrible that it had to come to that point to wake up the community, but I’m pleased to say that it did wake it up, and they did step up and rescue the failing club and all ended well.  A shame that it took threats of closing to get the response, but great that they did get the response after all.

Onwards and upwards!volunteersneeded