March 25, 2012
The Season for Volunteer Recognition
It’s that time of the year again. The annual awards and accolades for volunteer service are being handed out and hitting the headlines.
A few weeks ago New Zealanders of the Year were announced, and the Kiwibank Local Heroes awards are percolating around the country right now. In Christchurch 140 groups and individuals have been recognised as Earthquake Heroes. Volunteers who helped with the clean-up from the Rena oil-spill in the Bay of Plenty recently enjoyed a beach party. This weekend it is the turn to learn the winners of Trustpower National Community Awards.
I have not counted how many people are standing tall and proud. I am observing instead how volunteer service is valued and appreciated all around New Zealand, in small and large communities, urban and rural. Indeed both Kiwibank and Trustpower sponsor awards for a whole community or community group, and citations illustrate just how much collective volunteering can achieve.
The categories for these awards are not restrictive; it seems volunteers in all population groups, sector interests, and social issues can have equal chances of nomination and selection. There are few nominees in paid positions, and even fewer mentions of the major non-profit organisations. Mostly the awards go to individuals associated with informal groups, community-based and community-led, or to the collective efforts of a community organisation that would otherwise not make national headlines.
There are no Managers or Coordinators of volunteers in the line-up, but there is a great deal of leadership evident in the citations of achievements. Words like ‘passion’, ‘commitment’ and ‘inspiring’ appear quite frequently. I suspect managers of volunteers could find something to learn from these community leaders.
The best volunteering story of the year has to be that of Sam Johnson, leader of the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) which took on the muddy job of cleaning up liquefaction following the Christchurchearthquake of September 2010, and again in February 2011. I am sure he did not set out to demonstrate the art of managing spontaneous volunteering and the effectiveness of the SVA, nor to seek the crown of Young New Zealander of the Year. The achievements of Sam and his team are remarkable, and the international recognition that has followed is well-deserved. The full account of how SVA was established and what it did is available through the on-line journal e-volunteerism, here.
Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to the people who did the nominating. The awards do not and cannot account for all the volunteers who keep on keeping on giving their time, energy and skills to their communities. But the awards sure draw attention to what volunteers achieve, to the spirit of community, and to inspiring leadership.