1 August 2016

Ask not what your community can do for you; ask what you can do for your community.

Grounded for winter – no way. I’ve been out and about taking in some of the many community events held over the recent Sydney Pride Festival. It was great to see how this grassroots festival has grown and developed its own identity. It has become a wonderful opportunity for many of our community organisations to inform, educate, entertain and raise funds.

The one thing you notice at every event is the number of people now giving their time for community charities, support and social groups. All genders, all ages – volunteers are the cogs of our community’s heart.

I know from my own personal experience over the years just how much fun and personally rewarding the volunteers’ experience can be; to anyone considering joining in – I say jump!

I spoke to my friend Steph Sands, who in 2015 won the Honour Award for Community Hero. For over 15 years, Steph has developed, guided and supported a broad range of LGBTI community organisations and events, including as co-chair of Mardi Gras and founder of Women Say Something. She said she originally got involved as a volunteer because she wasn’t meeting the type of people she wanted to in the clubs and bars. She was looking for more.

“If you want to create community you have to be community,” Steph said. “It doesn’t matter how you get involved, or how much: just be involved. Do what you feel comfortable doing and be open to meeting some other community minded people in the process.

“I simply wouldn’t have the skills, the network or the professional experiences if it weren’t for volunteering at Mardi Gras,” Steph added. “I had the privilege of sitting across board tables with individuals from many diverse professional backgrounds and it was both an experience and an education to work with them.”

Steph’s service is exemplary, but scratch around and volunteers are important at every level and in every one of our local organisations.

Queer Screen is mostly run by volunteers. They have a core set of about 30 people, including the board, and a pool of several hundred that help on a project basis.

Queer Screen president Giovanni Campolo-Arcidiaco said: “We have a great friendly team where people’s talents can shine. It’s a great opportunity to make a difference by supporting the power of queer storytelling on screen.”

The Pollys Club have been running since 1964, all thanks to volunteers. Currently they have a membership of 33 people who are dedicated to their mission of providing a safe, friendly and fun social outlet for the LGBTI community. As a not-for-profit organisation, money raised from these functions goes towards an annual grants program where they support charities and other not-for-profit organisations.

The Pollys are always looking for new members and welcome all skills and talents as long as they share the Pollys’ passion and purpose. President David Haynes said without the hard work of volunteers over the last 52 years, The Pollys Club would not exist today – he is always amazed how people are prepared to work to keep something wonderful alive.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Sam Hartland, manager of volunteers at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

“Mardi Gras just wouldn’t happen without our volunteers,” Hartland said. “It is a way to contribute to our communities, meet new people and be a part of something really special. We have many long term volunteers, but what is really exciting is new volunteers becoming involved and wanting to join working groups and committees. It is so important that new people are getting involved so that new ideas and ways of working are influencing the organisation.”

Mardi Gras are currently recruiting for their finance and budget working group as well as the constitutional working group. Soon they will start recruiting for the leadership teams and working groups for the events, such as next year’s Fair Day and Parade.

These examples are just a flavour of the kind of opportunities available in our vibrant and diverse community. To find out more about these or any organisation or group that presses your buttons, give them a call, visit their websites or begin a conversation with one of those volunteers at a community event.

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