May 16-22 was National Volunteer Week. You may have missed it too. There wasn't a stream of profile picture banners, bio emojis, or heroes' accolades on social media, something that may be symptomatic of a wider problem rapidly catching up with our communities. We appear to have a volunteer drought.
When I arrived in a tiny town I got a lesson in just how much of the goings-on hedge solely on the unpaid man-hours of community members who show up, pitch in and make things happen.
No experience necessary, only effort required. Volunteers are the heroes that make our communities go around they are the magic that gives us substance.
They contribute to our schools, clubs, hospitals, support and care services, to our events and social lives. They give their time and of themselves so we can have 'community'.
As such volunteering is probably one of the greatest functions within democracy.
We may vote every few years with our ballots, but in between times we have a daily, weekly and monthly opportunity to vote with the time we give, on what sort of community we wish to have.
But our modern modus operandi of "glorified busyness" has seen a cultural shift that has cost us this most vital function of our small communities.
Far too often volunteering is being treated like a luxury item or an inconvenience that seems to fall upon the shoulders of a very select few, while most hesitate to put up a hand.
But our volunteers are not an infinite resource. Without succession planning, a wide pool of ready hands and an ongoing line of sustainers to pass the baton along too, we are the ones who stand to lose part of our communal identity, when their time and motivation dry up.
The reality is our small towns are ecosystems that would not survive without volunteering.
Even those who raise their hand over and again have times where they have to prioritise in other areas, which is why the saying 'many hands make light work' is so fundamental.
The more volunteers we have, the wider the spread, the less effort required by all, the stronger, more productive and robust the organisation.
But in recent years, coming to a head these past two, the desperation has become visceral, with many groups on the verge of collapse as the volunteer hours they need to survive have all but dried up.
It seems we have a creeping shortage of man hours that is costing our communities dearly.
There are branches closing, events being cancelled all together, committees desperately seeking new faces so that veterans can hand over the reins and vital charitable functions being lost to us.
What was a unanimous cry for help, has in many cases already faded to a whimper and as we continue beyond this crisis point, there may be nothing left but a death knell.
So on behalf of all the volunteer groups in your community; please lend a hand, go to a meeting, ask if you can contribute in some small way. Teach your children the importance of volunteering and to appreciate the volunteer time given by others in their communities.
Encourage your friends to pitch in with you. If we all spent one hour less looking at a screen this week and gave that hour to something we appreciate and believe in, our communities would all be better for it.
- Bess O'Connor, Goondiwindi
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