I had reason to call into our local combined RSA and Cosmopolitan Club recently to pick up my annual membership cards to both organisations. I was standing chatting to the barman when I was approached by an old friend in a hurry.
This guy is 70-odd and has been a volunteer in Rotary and the community for the past 36 years I have known him. He is always flat out. I asked him about having some time off and he explained that he had a recital to go to that night with his dear wife and that will be his downtime this week.
I then saw a group of people leave a small room, the local Alzheimers Society were winding up their meeting. I had arranged to meet another old mate for a natter. He was on duty in another room as the front person for our local Grey Power group which has an office in the complex.
A few weeks ago I gave a speech to one of the local Rotary clubs in their room which is also part of this complex. I had been invited to talk about a recent book I have published, in return, they gave me a meal and an orange juice. Most Rotarians work for a living and then devote their spare time to community projects.
I admire people who volunteer their own time to worthy causes in the community. The fire service and ambulance service in this country could not operate without volunteers. Even the police have Community Safety Patrols made up of willing volunteers adding extra eyes around town in the evening to help. This is, of course, all unpaid time donated by already busy people.
New Zealand is almost run by volunteers. More than 1.2 million New Zealanders are actively engaged with at least one charity or not-for-profit organisation. It is estimated they contribute $6 billion worth of time and effort to our country's GDP. The value of the labour donated alone equates to $3.5b annually and climbing.
Volunteers run sports clubs and organisations in this country with the support of a few paid individuals from the local council. They deliver meals on wheels to our sick and elderly, they give time to read to little ones in schools, they fight our rural fires and man our ambulances, they feed the hundreds at tangihanga, they are usually the front persons at art exhibitions and plays. The list is endless.
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Of course the government, no matter what political stripe, likes volunteers. Imagining having to pay for all this work done out of the goodness of the citizenry's heart.
Huge community events cannot run without the use of volunteer labour, perhaps in return for a small donation to a volunteer group's charity or cause. As a Rotarian I spent a few years on the side of the road in a white coat shepherding people involved in various activities, ensuring their safety and also to ensure that they did not get lost on fun runs, walks and cycling events.
Almost everyone appreciates the help of volunteers but there is always the exception.
I have seen competitive athletes turn on older volunteers for supposedly slowing them down or sending them in the wrong direction. These instances are nasty, needless and, at the end of the day, invariably the athlete's own fault.
I was once acting as a race judge in a car following a road cycling time trial team. This was a national event so everyone was on their game. One of the team had a mechanical glitch, not uncommon in these events with the adrenalin running high. He got off his machine, approached me and shouted at me to fix his bike. My role was to judge the event, not to be a mechanic. I politely explained this.
He was in such a paddy that he picked up his $10,000 road bike and threw it over the nearby farmer's fence into the paddock. His fellow team members were embarrassed watching him jump up and down in his funny shoes in the middle of nowhere. He then had to climb over the fence, retrieve his now slightly battered machine, fix it and go on his way.
He ruined his team's very good chance of getting a national title that day. I ruefully wondered why I bothered. This event was run annually and simply could not run without unpaid volunteers to make it happen safely and efficiently, a fact missed sometimes by an ungrateful few.
So when you see the local Christmas Parade, attend a fun run, go to a community sausage sizzle, watch children at kapa haka, remember that these events only happen because good people are willing to donate their time and money so others can enjoy themselves.
(Dedicated to Whanganui community stalwart Neville Procter RIP)