Sunday, February 17, 2019

Volunteer Leadership By combining your determination and our experience!



“Such is the upside-down, topsy-turvy state of our world that the children are now the adults and the adults are the children.

So leads Jonathon Freedland in his recent article in the Guardian titled - The school climate change strikes are inspiring – but they should shame us

I’ve written before about the school climate change strikes and other climate action volunteering but there seems to be so little if any scrutiny or discussion about this form of volunteering within the volunteering or volunteer management sector itself.

We boast when we talk about “new and emerging trends” that we are way ahead of them or at least anticipating them but we are still stuck in a quagmire of volunteer management discussion focussing on us and our struggle to be taken seriously. Perhaps the emperor has no clothes.

Meanwhile, and pardon the French, the world is facing a shit storm. It’s called climate change. It is real, it is threatening and it should be frightening the socks off you all.

It is frightening our youth enough, that they have opted to volunteer for a noble cause…like…saving the planet for their future.

As Freedland goes on to say “It has fallen to those so young they are not trusted to decide what they can eat or when they can go to bed to sound the alarm about the crisis that matters most: the crisis of the climate.

How soon will it be before more Not for Profits take up the cause of fighting to save the planet. If they are now fighting for humanitarianism, for alleviation of poverty or for social justice or for refugees how soon will it be before they realise that it all will be further interconnected by the crisis that is not around the corner but here now.  This is not a long stretch of the bow.

Back to Freedland’s article “Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, an early and tireless environmental advocate, is right to say that the #FridaysForFuture movement is “not the first great change to begin with the action of just one person”: from Abraham onwards, our history and tradition is full of people who, alone at first, changed the world.

How often in our speeches and writings and blogs and newsletters do we write “Volunteers change the world?”

And yet, with this volunteering movement growing around the world why do we seem to be missing its significance? What can we as a sector learn about;

·         Volunteers self-organising

·         Organising at scale

·         Motivation of young people

·         Mass civil action

·         Innovative modes of management

·         The power of social media to mobilise volunteers.



Yes there are critics of these new movements springing up and a certain cynicism about youth action and you can read about those in the article as well. And yet we have heard that cynicism in the Volunteer management world as well. We have all come across one of these statements

“Young people are not reliable volunteers”

“Never take on students”

“Young people don’t stay”

“Young people are doing volunteering for selfish reasons”

And we may face cynicism in our own sector as well about the very notion that this is a volunteering movement. Some will argue that it is activism rather than volunteerism.

In a separate article written for the Guardian George Monbiot wrote about these children leaving their classes to protest against climate change - My generation trashed the planet. So I salute the children striking back

“The Youth Strike 4 Climate gives me more hope than I have felt in 30 years of campaigning. Before this week, I believed it was all over. I thought, given the indifference and hostility of those who govern us, and the passivity of most of my generation, that climate breakdown and ecological collapse were inevitable. Now, for the first time in years, I think we can turn them around.

By combining your determination and our experience, we can build a movement big enough to overthrow the life-denying system that has brought us to the brink of disaster – and beyond. Together we must demand a different way, a life-giving system that defends the natural world on which we all depend. A system that honours you, our children, and values equally the lives of those who are not born. Together, we will build a movement that must – and will – become irresistible.

By combining your determination and our experience! What can our sector learn from this powerful sentiment?

Can we see the trees for the forest before there are no trees left at all?

The volunteer sector needs to be discussing this. The silence is deafening.








Sunday, January 6, 2019

Volunteering Disruption!









Have you come across the word “Disrupt” What exactly is it? According to Melanie Burgess in an article written for News.com “ In a nutshell, positive disruption is corporate terminology for changing things up and solving problems from a new perspective. It is closely linked to another buzzword, innovation. The most commonly used example of disruption is ride-sharing mobile app Uber, where the creators disrupted the taxi industry by solving the problem of expensive transport and tackling it from a peer-to-peer perspective.” Melanie goes on to write “ Despite disruption often coming in the form of new technologies, a Randstad survey reveals more than four in five Australians are unconcerned by the idea of technological advances affecting their job in the future.”

Melanie goes on to quote Juanita Wheeler, organiser of TEDxBrisbane and founder of consulting firm Full & Frank who says the best way to become a disrupter is to read.

“The greatest minds and the people most innovative and creative and continuously looking for better solutions across all aspects of life are people who read,” Juanita says. “They might see an idea in architecture and apply it in science or see an idea in a travel company and apply it to foreign aid funding.” She recommends reading research articles from universities as well as keeping up-to-date on science, technology and current affairs. “The more widely you read, the more inquisitive and creative your ideas become,” she says. “It’s completely out of vogue to some extent but to me it’s everything. The beauty of it is that reading is free.”

Linda Ronnie writing for The Conversation in an article titled “Why it’s important for HR to get out in front of workplace disruption” states “There is no doubt that future workplaces are going to look different and that they’ll be run differently too. More and more companies are hiring freelancers and remote work among full-time employees is also becoming the new normal.”
Is it important for Volunteer Leadership to get out in front of workplace disruption? I say - of course!

As Linda says “ Monitoring teams and keeping up to date with projects can be done via a number of platforms and more electronic solutions will become available over time. Already, companies are making use of cloud-based solutions, voice technology and machine learning to manage their people”

We cannot afford to miss the relevance of this in the volunteering space. How can we adapt to new and emerging technologies that can assist us in harnessing the power of community giving for our organisations?

The traditional modus operandi of volunteer engagement still continues but if we fail to read, be inquisitive and to be creative we will be left behind. Take for example an this in Linda’s article:
“Global consumer goods giant, Unilever, is already taking advantage of this. It’s launched a pioneering digital recruitment process that’s shortened its hiring cycle from four months to just two weeks. This saves 50,000 hours of candidate time while reducing recruiter screening time by a massive 75%. More than that, the process is fun and rewarding for candidates and they get better feedback about their participation regardless of whether they are successful or not.”

Now apply this to how we recruit volunteers? Is your process fun and rewarding for volunteer candidates? It should be! Could you reduce your volunteer recruitment screening time by 75%?

As Linda says “ New approaches are appealing especially to Millennials and the Generation Zs – young people who are tech savvy and used to interacting on multiple platforms, and who will dominate work spaces of the future.”

How are we converting that talent and those skills into volunteering? The idea of disruption brings up many questions for us in the sector.
Are we shifting the mode of volunteering to suit volunteering of the future?

Are we using the right language to recruit the next gen of volunteering?

Are we harnessing present and emerging technology to drive innovative volunteering?

Are we reading and continuously looking for better solutions across all aspects of volunteering?

I believe that some groups are doing well. They are mostly in the Activist sphere where they are mobilising at place and harnessing technology to be agile and effective. We can learn a lot from them. We must to simply keep up and to do so we must disrupt!

Friday, December 28, 2018

An Accidental Volunteer Meets Great Volunteer Managers!







Recently, as readers of this blog know well, I participated in a public demonstration and march in Brisbane. The march was to #stopadani. Adani want to open a new coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. Right now their trucks and machinery are sitting on the land waiting for the final go ahead. People power will stop this mine. And I have now found myself as a volunteer activist. The people power movement is being led, in many instances by our youth. My motivation for volunteering is my kids. Climate Change is real and climate action must take place now.


Getting back to the march. I got up early one fine Saturday morning to take the 50 minute train ride to the Adani HQ in the city of Brisbane. I arrived far too early but decided to head to the site anyway. I couldn’t miss where Adani calls home in Brisbane. A tall golden building. I felt it rather apt. On arrival I was surprised to find a small group of people gathered around the front of the building. Not knowing anyone I just walked up and stood with them. In front of them were a small team of about four who were addressing them. They were all young and all very energetic. I looked around me to discover I was probably one of the oldest there bar maybe a handful. On listening I discovered that I has accidently joined the core group of volunteers who were organising this event. Nobody seemed to mind my presence and I stood there for about 20 minutes as people were coordinated and the planning for the event explained. Road marshals were picked and people were handed yellow vests. Megaphones were handed out. First aid officers were pointed out and the police liaison officer was introduced.  Banners were given out and I gladly took one. The coordinators made every one of us feel very welcome. They gave us time for questions. They told us how inspired they were that we were there. After the orientation they ran to every volunteer present giving them a high five. The mood was joyous. Personally I felt I had found my tribe. People I had never met smiled, spoke to me and made me feel welcome.


In terms of Volunteer management they were super organised. They were articulate and confident speakers. They knew their job and they knew how to do it well. They instantly made the volunteers feel welcome and appreciated. They explained what we had to do and how we would do it. They allowed for feedback. They were concerned about safety and wellbeing. They respected everyone’s contribution no matter what task they had.


They would I imagine  never consider themselves volunteer managers. I doubt the crowd assembled even considered themselves volunteers. But here stood leaders and a community willing to give their time about a cause they cared about. And on seeing how they were treated and coordinated I have no doubt that many of them will be back but this time bringing more friends and family with them.


Over two thousand more turned up that day. Maybe more. There was passion but there was also joy. The event went off without a hitch and it gained great media coverage.


I take my hat off to those leaders and volunteers. I am more hopeful for my future and my kids future because of them. I don’t remember their names but I will never forget the effect they had on this accidental volunteer.


 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 - The year of lazy Volunteer Management Activism!



2018. An uneventful year for the volunteer management sector. Certainly in Australia. And I am talking about the traditional sector of Volunteer Management in Australia. In other countries some progress is being made. Especially in the UK.

International Volunteer Managers Day had the theme “Be the Voice” Not a bad theme but be the voice for what? Looking at the fairly mute reaction I wondered if it was a good theme for a sector afraid to speak out.

Still. It was good to see the day more widely recognised. The Queensland government actually had a statement on the day. A few days after I tweeted the Premier. I’d like to think that helped. But not many volunteer Managers Tweeted about the day. We are ten years behind when it comes to social media. Most VMs I know are not on Twitter!

I tried. I re-joined my professional association on Volunteer Management. I took on the social media and Marketing portfolio. Though I made great inroads in a short time I had to leave after the publication of a volunteer management survey. A third party and a big player in the volunteer sector took umbrage in a survey we did on volunteer management. I felt that pressure was put on our president. They felt we were taking “their space” I was most disappointed knowing the people involved. A letter from our board with an apology was hastily written. I could not sign. I resigned.

It was not right on many fronts. We need to end the politics in our sector. There are too many people in our sector in positions of power who cold be doing better. Some may be doing our sector a disservice. People should on board to further volunteering and excellence in volunteer leadership and not just enhancing resumes!.Our sector needs people of passion and commitment and advocacy. We will look back in ten years hopefully and learn from the present!

Volunteering Victoria has again stood out in Australia in regard to how peak bodies should behave! South Australia is not too far behind. Both present fresh perspectives on volunteering and volunteer management.

Volunteer Australia has concentrated much on submissions to policies that emanates from Canberra but alone is it doing enough to progress volunteerism and volunteer management? Work like the National Standards are having a positive effect.

AAMOV may cease to exist in 2019. They may have failed to see that Volunteer Managers need the voice of an advocate. I do hope they reconsider more advocacy because we do need a strong voice.


I still believe we need a national conference or forum on Volunteer Management specifically. The loss of the Retreat for Advanced Volunteer management is a shame. It should be revived.

We need more activist advocacy for the Sector moving forward. We need fresh voices and new thought. It’s the only way we will gain some traction and get more relevance in 2019.









Saturday, December 8, 2018

My Day of Volunteer Activism



“The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change” – The Oxford Dictionary

A few weeks ago I wrote

“History will record the present era as one of enormous upheaval and change. Let there be no doubt about that. Democracy itself is under threat. The middle class is disappearing and the 1% has more wealth and power than ever before. Scientists are pulling their hair out as governments around the globe ignore the real threat of climate change. People are on the move in their millions, displaced by war, hunger, terror and collapsing economies. Around the globe extreme right wing actors are emboldened with a louder voice.  But what has that to do with volunteering and with those that lead them? It has everything to do with us. Because the modern and future volunteer is an activist for the globe. If there is no leadership on the issues that matter to the people then people will take matters into their own hands. They will not only be volunteering for causes that they hold dear. They will be volunteering for the very future of their planet and for the future of their children and grandchildren. “

Well today I took action. Here is the story of my day.

Saturday morning 6am. I am awake ready to head into the city of Brisbane. It’s about 55 minutes away by train. It’s also my first day of leave from work as I take a pre-Christmas vacation with my family. It’s the end of an extremely busy week at work. I am simply exhausted and have not slept well. I could just turn over and go back to sleep for the next 3 hours. My body screams at me to do so. It’s a cloudy day. It isn’t too hot. I don’t have to move.

But this is what volunteering means. I don’t have to and I do. I throw myself out of bed and hit the shower. Today I am volunteering for the future of the globe and the future of my kids. I’ve been in Volunteer Management for 23 years. I’ve volunteered for various organisations since I was 16. This feels different. The feeling of compulsion to do this is particularly strong this morning.

Last night I had sat down with my young kids to explain what I was doing. Now let me tell you a bit about the proposed Adani Mine in Queensland Australia knowing that I have a substantial global audience.

The Carmichael coal mine is a proposed thermal coal mine in the north of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland, Australia. Mining is planned to be conducted by both open-cut and underground methods. The mine is proposed by Adani Mining, a wholly owned subsidiary of India's Adani Group.

“Coal is killing us and our planet. Pollution from burning coal is the single biggest contributor to dangerous global warming, threatening our way of life. Coal mining drains and pollutes our water supplies, harms our health and destroys our natural landscape.” – Stop Adani Website

And so here I am today.

The starting spot for the rally was at 10 Eagle St Brisbane. This is the HQ for Adani.


I got there far too early but I was glad to do so. With my interest in Volunteer Management I was delighted to mix with all the event volunteers who had decided to meet an hour before the March. I was so impressed by the volunteer coordinators. They gave out roles, they talked about health and safety, they talked about First Aid, they gave out different colour vests for different tasks and they were super friendly and welcoming.

There were no forms. No checks. No interviews. No barriers.

Most of the volunteers there at the start were young people. And this was inspiring. 


But I worried as I looked around. I could see only about 50 people gathered an hour before the rally. I need not have worried. As the rally took off and marched toward parliament house there were at least a thousand of us!



As you can see I am hopeless with selfies



And we marched. Through the streets of Brisbane.

And it was wonderful.

And it was a start.

But here are a few points I would like to make after my experience.

·         I am not a rusted on Green supporter. I was a member for a short period and left because no one connected with me.

·         I attended today as an ordinary member of the public. Yes there were people there from schools. There were students. There were people form the Green movement and the left side of thinking. But this is bigger than labels. For this movement to work you must win over the ordinary member of the public. You must win over the office worker and the construction worker and the bank manager!

·         1,000 people in Brisbane today and thousands of others across the country marching was good. But it is not nearly good enough. In Brisbane this week 14, 000 might attend a soccer match. Normally 35, 000 will attend a Broncos match. We can be happy but we cannot celebrate a thousand people marching in our city taking action on one of the greatest threats to mankind!

·         Politicians will not take notice of 1,000 people

·         Today we marched on parliament. It was closed. No one was there.

·         Today we protested outside Adani HQ. It was a Saturday. What was the impact?

What we need to do

Disrupt

·         Nonviolent peaceful resistance: And this will be the topic of my next blog! Contact me on acim4me@live.com if you want to take action! 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A new form of volunteerism is arising and I told you so!


My blog post on November 4th 2018


“History will record the present era as one of enormous upheaval and change. Let there be no doubt about that. Democracy itself is under threat. The middle class is disappearing and the 1% has more wealth and power than ever before. Scientists are pulling their hair out as governments around the globe ignore the real threat of climate change. People are on the move in their millions, displaced by war, hunger, terror and collapsing economies. Around the globe extreme right wing actors are emboldened with a louder voice.



But what has that to do with volunteering and with those that lead them? It has everything to do with us. Because the modern and future volunteer is an activist for the globe. If there is no leadership on the issues that matter to the people then people will take matters into their own hands. They will not only be volunteering for causes that they hold dear. They will be volunteering for the very future of their planet and for the future of their children and grandchildren. “

Citizens want to take action now on the cause they believe in. If we stifle their ambition with too much paperwork and bureaucracy they will walk away from us and do it anyway. They will baulk at traditional on boarding methods of volunteering. And they will demand to see the impact of their volunteering. They will also want more of a say in how their movement or organisation operates. They will reject hierarchy. Not for them the bottom rung of the organisational chart! They will lead and cast aside tired leadership methods, soundbites and ways of doing things. They will not tolerate any lack of diversity. They will not tolerate anyone thinking “young people don’t stick around”. They won’t be there for you every Tuesday at 9am and in fact will be there when they are ready to be there. They may not accept the title “Volunteer” and will run if you call them a Vollie. They won’t be patronised and they will tell you to stuff your four hour orientation program! They will demand you utilise the best technology available and they will not be silenced on social media. 

What happened on November 30th 2018


From BBC News

Thousands of Australian school students have urged greater action on climate change in protests across the country. The students skipped school on Friday to highlight what they say are inadequate climate policies by the Australian government. On Monday, Australian PM Scott Morrison rebuked their plans for "activism" during school hours and insisted his government was tackling climate change. Many students said his remarks had bolstered their resolve to protest.

"We will be the ones suffering the consequences of the decisions they [politicians] make today," protester Jagveer Singh, 17, told the BBC.

From CNN

Thousands of Australian children skipped school on Friday in defiance of the prime minister to protest for greater action on climate change. Organizers estimated around 15,000 left their classrooms in 30 locations across the country, including Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, carrying signs reading "procrastinating is our job not yours" and "I've seen smarter Cabinets at Ikea". Friday's protests followed similar protests in Canberra and Hobart earlier this week. As the children prepared for three days of protest, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament "what we want is more learning in schools and less activism."

From The DJ Cronin Blog

Thousands of Australian children have made me so proud of our youth this weekend. School kids across the country volunteered to do what they did! They volunteered for the globe. They volunteered for our future. They volunteered for their own kid’s and grandkids future.

I have seen many marches over many years. I’ve participated in quite a few. These kids have inspired me to believe there is hope for my own young kids!

Thank you for volunteering to speak out and take action! Thank you! 











Sunday, November 4, 2018

Volunteer Leadership - Time To Change The Tune!






As another International Volunteer Managers Day dawns I reflect on its theme which is “Time for change”.

I say that dramatic change is needed right now or our sector will not be relevant or even exist within ten years.

We have been staring at our naval for far too long and while the world is changing around us dramatically and scarily we are having the same old conversations and doing the same old thing we have been doing for eons.

History will record the present era as one of enormous upheaval and change. Let there be no doubt about that. Democracy itself is under threat. The middle class is disappearing and the 1% has more wealth and power than ever before. Scientists are pulling their hair out as governments around the globe ignore the real threat of climate change. People are on the move in their millions, displaced by war, hunger, terror and collapsing economies. Around the globe extreme right wing actors are emboldened with a louder voice.

But what has that to do with volunteering and with those that lead them? It has everything to do with us. Because the modern and future volunteer is an activist for the globe. If there is no leadership on the issues that matter to the people then people will take matters into their own hands. They will not only be volunteering for causes that they hold dear. They will be volunteering for the very future of their planet and for the future of their children and grandchildren.

The way they volunteer, where they volunteer and how they volunteer is changing. Yes, the traditional mode of volunteering and some traditional volunteer roles will remain. But I predict a tsunami of activist volunteering and organisations in the next five years.

If we don’t change and change soon our roles will be inconsequential.

Citizens in our communities want to disrupt. Are we ready to be disrupt leaders?

Citizens want to be agile and flexible - are we agile and flexible enough to go with them? 


Citizens want to take action now on the cause they believe in. If we stifle their ambition with too much paperwork and bureaucracy they will walk away from us and do it anyway. They will baulk at traditional on boarding methods of volunteering. And they will demand to see the impact of their volunteering. They will also want more of a say in how their movement or organisation operates. They will reject hierarchy. Not for them the bottom rung of the organisational chart! They will lead and cast aside tired leadership methods, soundbites and ways of doing things. They will not tolerate any lack of diversity. They will not tolerate anyone thinking “young people don’t stick around”. They won’t be there for you every Tuesday at 9am and in fact will be there when they are ready to be there. They may not accept the title “Volunteer” and will run if you call them a Vollie. They won’t be patronised and they will tell you to stuff your four hour orientation program! They will demand you utilise the best technology available and they will not be silenced on social media. 


We need to lead volunteers now for social justice and action. We need to lead volunteers now to save our environment. We need to lead volunteers to take action on homelessness. We need to lead volunteers who want to change our political discourse. We need to lead volunteers who want compassionate action for refugees. We need to lead volunteers who have the ideas that will make our globe a better place to live in. We need to embrace virtual volunteering. And if we are to remain relevant in our leadership they will demand that we earn their respect by being a voice for action and by having the skills to mobilise people and effect real change.

We may have to throw out most things we think we know about volunteer management. The theme for this year’s International Volunteer Managers Day is apt. Change is bulldozing its way through history. We either go with it or get out of the way.




Friday, November 2, 2018

Community: From the streets of London





Recently I had the honour spending the day with a Homelessness Service on the Gold Coast. We spent the day doing a vegetable and flower garden makeover, preparing and cooking some yummy dishes, serving the residents at lunch and doing a major cleanout of some cupboards! We also met and spent some time with the residents and staff who inspired us with their resilience and dedication. Getting away from our busy CBD office for the day and witnessing one of our services on the frontline was a very fulfilling experience. It brought home to us how we are all linked in providing these vital services to our community. It is compassion, humanity and service in action and we all have our unique part to play.
For me it was a uniquely personal experience. This was the second time within a yearI had worked with a homeless service.


Both experiences stirred a long distant memory. Long distant but never forgotten. Allow me to tell you the story.
It was a smile that opened the floodgates. She continued to smile at me but a look of concern began to sprout on her face. I looked away. I was wet, and cold, and scared. I was alone amongst 8.8 million people in a strange city and this lady’s kind smile had made me cry on the Tube. I was far from the babbling brooks and caressing countryside of Ireland but events taking place would shape my future.


“Shhhh. Listen..” My dad had stopped in his tracks with a hand in the air to indicate that attention must be paid. It was three years earlier in the countryside of Rathmore, a lush rural community in Kerry. Innocent days. I stopped walking and cast my eyes over the vast landscape that enveloped the ferny bog land, meandering meadows, heather and the ancient mountains. My 17 year old heart filled with joy at the sound of the cuckoo singing her song as though she was welcoming us to her home.


We walked on. We had only gone a few minutes into our walk, an event that had recently become a ritual for dad and me. It was a bonding time. “Who lives there?” asked dad as we passed a neighbours house. “The O Leary’s dad” Dad knew this I thought to myself but said nothing. When we came to the next house he asked the same question. Again I answered knowing that he knew. A few houses later and by now a few miles from home I began struggling to name who lived in each house. He began providing the answers and named every household we came across dotted along that isolated road. On the return home he asked again to make sure that I had remembered the names. And then he stopped walking and as I stopped with him expecting the cuckoo song once more he explained “Community Diarmuid. We live in a community, a good community and it’s very important to know who your neighbours are. And as a car rambled past us and as they exchanged waves with dad he finished with “Always remember the importance of community” . Dad’s no longer of this world but I have never forgotten those words. Words that have shaped my view on community.
Sitting on that train in London three years later, community was far away from my mind.  I had travelled to London to take up a sales job, door to door selling fire safety equipment. For a rural young lad it was an exciting prospect. The company would reimburse your flight there (never happened) and put you up in hotels (2 stars) and feed you! (Tea and toast every morning only). They promised the world and delivered a hard life lesson.  So with less than a hundred pounds in my back pocket I headed for the bright lights of London, a green eared country boy who had only been to a much smaller city like Dublin on a couple of occasions.


It worked like this. At the crack of dawn after our toast we would pile into 3 or 4 different minibuses and we would be dispatched to various streets of London. Once there we would go door to door for a couple of hours trying to sell fire extinguishers, fire blankets and smoke alarms. Beginners luck granted me two sales on my first day so I was spared the wrath. About 3 days in and I hadn’t been selling.  I felt people simply didn’t trust people selling these items door to door but I kept those thoughts to myself. It was a freezing London morning and I had just done a two hour stint with no sale. With only a jumper on over a tee shirt I tried to keep warm by walking up and down the street. The mini bus appeared with my supervisor driving. He slowly go out of his car and approached me. “Any sales” he queried. I muttered a sheepish no and made the mistake of smiling. It was nerves. With that he unleashed a cascade of verbal abuse, the likes I had never encountered before or since! I stood frozen as spittle spayed from his angry mouth. I heard the words about been thrown out on the streets if I didn’t improve. I became aware of people stopping on the street to look but no offers of help came. It would have been a confusing looking scene. ‘Your jumper” he shouted. I looked at him blankly. ‘Take off your damn jumper and give it to me” he continued. He moved much closer to me. I complied. “Now you stand on this spot and don’t move and I will be back in an hour to take you back to the hotel. Slamming the car door he got back into the bus and left me standing in zero degrees in my tee shirt. But the cold wasn’t the only thing I was shaking from. I decided there and then that I was quitting this job but I couldn’t think of anything else. I knew though I hadn’t a penny on me.
Suddenly a parking ticket officer and another man were standing next to me. They had seen what had happened and here were members of the community concerned about this bewildered young man in his tee-shirt. After decline their suggestion to go to the police I explained the bind I was in. One of the guys was a foreman on a building set and said he could give me work but it wouldn’t be for 2 weeks. So I took the sites address grateful that there was light at the end of the hotel.


When I got picked up again by the bus my jumper was thrown at me and I sat quietly on the bus with the other young sales people who were also hushed. Perhaps their morning had been just as bad.  Arriving safely at the hotel I approached the supervisor and handed in two weeks’ notice.  Instead, despite my protestations, I was ordered to pack my bag and leave the hotel. So there I was in a part of London that I knew nothing about without a job, without a home and without money. One of the other salespeople who had seen my plight quickly came out to see me. He handed me a note of paper with a address on it – “It’s a homeless shelter for Irish people – so catch the tube there and good luck’ with that he quickly ran back inside.
It began to rain and I cried with the sky walking to the tube. Pride stopped me from contacting my family in Ireland. I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. Pride is a silly thing. I had no money for the tube so I raced in behind someone else at the barrier at the station and ran to the train as someone shouted angrily at me from behind.


The hostel took me in. I was given a room to share with another young man and that night I cried for hours, alone, scared and with a terrible deep sadness. How could the world be so cruel I thought as an exhausted body eventually drifted into sleep?
In the morning it was all gone. I had actually fallen asleep with my clothes and sneakers still on. My bags were empty. Clothes, shoes. Personal items, everything had been stolen from right under my nose.  All I was left with were the clothes I wore.


After crying for the first few days I began to take a look around me in this hostel. Homeless people were being fed three meals a day and had a bed and shelter. I saw staff, chaplains and volunteers all offering a helping hand. I was given some money to buy hygiene and other items. I could not believe the generosity of people. Why were they helping me? Why were they spending most days here offering support?  I found tears in my eyes would now come for a different reason. These people inspired me. And I wanted to help. I sat with a counsellor and asked if I could help in any way for the rest of my time here. There wasn’t any need for extra help then but we spoke of my desire to work helping others. I had vowed in my heart there and then that I would, if I could, end up working for the community.


I left after a few weeks with the address for the building site. I thanked these community members who had been there for me in this dark time and I walked with a spring in my step the 13 kilometres to the other side of London. I still had no money and no accommodation but this job offered hope. After the end of the first day’s work a worker had offered me a place to stay for the night. Before I left another approached me and handed me an envelope. They had heard of my plight and done a collection amongst the workers. In the envelope was a few hundred pounds enough for a deposit on a place to stay! For about the twentieth time in as many days I was crying again.
I’ve never forgotten that vow I made in London. Not long after arriving in Australia and after taking a dead end job again I walked away finally and absorbed myself in studying Human and Community Services at a TAFE in Brisbane. I have never looked back and have now spent over 21 years helping community through managing volunteers and volunteering myself.


I have seen how community works as a giver and receiver. Sometimes I still tear up when I see volunteers getting together to help the vulnerable in our society. Working in community will always inspire me. Community is the light that still shines despite the turmoil, despite the tragedy and despite the fear. Dad was right. We should know our neighbours. But in this global village we are all neighbours. We are all community.


As Leo Buscaglia told us “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
It did mine.


Dedicated to my dad



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