March 20, 2011

Honouring Local Heroes

Posted in Good news stories, Valuing Volunteers at 2:45 am by Sue Hine

Kiwibank is a New Zealand-owned institution, the minnow that says look-at-me-now! in the big banking pond.  Which is rather like Kiwis see themselves on the global stage.  When you live at the bottom of the world there are so many extra miles to go to meet the rest of the world and to make your mark on it.

Kiwibank goes further in its New Zealand Awards programme, wanting to recognise contributions from people who embody “pure kiwi spirit”.  (100% Pure, right?)

So we have had the big fanfares for the national awards and now the Local Heroes are being announced.  There are 250 medals for distribution across New Zealand for people doing extraordinary things in their local communities, to make them a better place. 

(I hope we do not have to wait till next year to properly acknowledge the heroes of Christchurch.)

In my region the line-up of medallists is an impressive display of volunteer achievement.  More interesting for me are the comments recorded alongside their photos in the newspaper:

  • I’m just part of a team
  •  [Volunteer work] is a very practical way of making things happen
  • I’m just the face of what we do.  All recognition should go to the families we’ve worked with.

You will note the self-deprecating tone of these pretty typical Kiwis. 

Another medallist declared ‘Connecting with people is more meaningful than any award’, indicating the importance of belonging in a community.  That’s what being human is all about, isn’t it?  And connecting with people is pretty well what you do in volunteering.

And here is the best statement about volunteering I have seen in years:

Volunteer work is as non-negotiable as brushing your teeth.  You just do it.  Being part of the community isn’t something that you tack on to life – it’s a really important part of life.

None of these worthy heroes worked single-handed – they are part of a team and their work has covered many years of effort.  Yet they are also the leaders, the initiators, the drivers, the enthusiasts that make things happen, the people who ‘make a difference’.  Like the leaders and managers and coordinators of volunteers in our community organisations who are working just as hard to achieve similar ends.  When one of them is awarded a Kiwibank medal I reckon the profession of management of volunteers will have arrived.

Last year we made the grade when Heather Moore, General Manager of Volunteering Waikato, became the first New Zealander to win the AAVA Volunteer Manager Award of Excellence.  AAVA (the Australasian Association of Volunteer Administrators) is our professional association, so the next step is to get the likes of Heather on our national stage.

And lest you think the Kiwibank awards are the only way to honour volunteers you would find that any organisation worth its salt could tell you a million different ways of recognising and appreciating volunteers for the work they do.  Beginning with thank you, going through rites of celebration, organisation functions, letters, cards, and ending with thank you, over and over again.

And all the time there is a leader, coordinator a manager of the volunteers in the background, creating the climate that allows volunteers to do their wonders.  Please, can we make them heroes too?


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