“Somebody, somebody has to, you see. Then she picked out two somebodies. Sally, and me.”
Call me a busy body, interfering, a compulsiver do-gooder, or simply someone with a guilt gland larger than my island home, but I am one of that strange breed of people known as volunteers. If you need someone to help out, my hand will be up before I can even think about wrestling it into submission. It’s probably some form of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Of course, I am not alone. From kinder or child care committees to sporting clubs, from school councils to working bees, from conservation groups to political parties, there is a small percentage of the population who just want to help out and get things done. These are the people who will pick up broken glass in a playground, or cut the grass outside the child care centre when the council workers are on strike. They don’t wait for someone else to do it. They just get it done.
“This was no time for play.
This was no time for fun.
This was no time for games.
There was work to be done.”
Unfortunately it is a very small percentage indeed. If you are a regular attendee at school working bees, you quickly learn that it is the same faces who show up every time. They run the election day fund raising sausage sizzle. They are on the fund raising committee. They stand for the school council and the kinder committee. When a notice comes home begging for help, they step forward unthinkingly.
The slightly startling thing is how rewarding it can be. Through my involvement with our child care committee, I have made lifelong friends and learnt huge amounts about management, child care and conflict resolution (don’t ask!). I actually look forward to the monthly meetings, and I know so much more about the running of our centre than I could possibly have learnt any other way. Other parents feel their children are in good hands – I know they are.
We chose our local child care centre for the lovely atmosphere. But we only looked at centres that were community run. Education, health and child care are areas that we believe are about community and the public good – not about making money. Private, profit-making child care has always been a concept that worries us. So having deliberately chosen a centre with a parent management committee, it seemed only fair to offer to help out on that committee.
In the 5 years I have been on it I have met many wonderful people, but I have also been struck by the sheer number of families who stay away from the committee in droves. Never attending a meeting, coming to the AGM, or helping out at the (infrequent) working bees. In doing so they are turning their backs, both on a community that needs their help, and on an opportunity for real personal growth.
When things need doing, it comes down to the same people, time after time. While it is very rewarding, it’s also frustrating to feel as though so many families are being carried on the back of your work.
I wouldn’t change my involvement with my community one bit. It’s a wonderful part of my life. But I do often wish I could persuade more people to try volunteering. To get involved with their communities, be it as parents, neighbours, or simply people who care.
In our increasingly secular society, for those of us who don’t go to church there is often a large space in our lives where community should be. By volunteering you can become a part of something larger, and more valuable than yourself. And that’s good for everybody.
Somebody, somebody has to, you see.