Paying it back – the highs and lows of volunteering
- 04 November,2019
Here’s me back in the 80s. Every Wednesday, my Mum or my Aunt would walk me 20 mins down the road to a little hut in Keston. The Cubs would turn up, run wild with games, pester Akela into playing the torch game (even in the summer when there was no chance of it being dark enough) and pretend to listen as we were taught knots. Gradually it seeped in and the latest push from UK Scouts about Skills for Life rings true to my experiences back then.
Skip forward 25 years and my own son was in Cubs and loving it when we received a mail saying they would have to close the pack unless they had more help. My wife usually received the mails so I hadn’t seen the requests for help before and I had been commuting up to London previously, I don’t think felt I had time. Now though, I was working 20 minutes down the road and had been wanting to find a way to give back. I went to a meeting at someone’s house and agreed that I should be able to do every other meeting but not really any other work outside of meetings. Any other Scouting volunteers are probably chuckling at this point as I soon found out that this is a pretty common route in! Sadly, the pack leader when I joined had to stop quite suddenly after family bereavements and so I agreed to step up the amount I was doing. Within just over a year I was running my own pack.
I soon got to know the children who are between eight and ten and a half for Cubs. You start to understand what they enjoy, what they will put up with and what they downright hate (knots and hikes they say!) and you start to learn each of their foibles. The children who you think are never listening but recite exactly what you said when asked. Those who are always going to ask questions no matter how much they have listened. Those that love it week in week out but quietly get on with things. Then you start to see the Facebook posts to your private group of the Cubs trying things at home – the pictures of them cleaning the house for the Home Help badge was particularly amusing. It was now my turn to deal with kids running wild during games, demanding the torch game and not listening about knots.
So, what does all this have to do with my day job? Well, firstly, CPS have been amazing in that they give two days paid for charity work. This October, I ran my first Cub Camp having only been a helper for a couple of others. Eleven Cubs were under my responsibility for three nights, ably assisted by three fellow leaders. We ran axe throwing, archery, zip wires, aerial runways, fish gutting, cooking their own dinner over the fire and wide games in the dark. While I am lucky enough to live in a prosperous area of England, these are still things that many of the children would never get the chance to do on their own. We put a Cub as the leader of each tent so they learn some responsibility and leadership and all the Cubs are responsible for their own kit, keeping it tidy and making sure they have the right bits at the right time. For many parents, life is too busy to rely on the children to sort their own things and it becomes a great chance for them to learn an important life skill.
For me, I could apply a lot of my project management experience to plan the week and use the communications to ensure the parents are kept up to date. However, there’s nothing in my day job that teaches me what to do when a horse goes wild on a hike and bites a leader before narrowly missing kicking a Cub in the head – even scarier when it was my own son. Learning to assess risks in different environments and deal with the unexpected all feeds back in to the day job.
The other link to work is what I have learnt from teaching Cubs that helps me to teach others. Understanding that some like to hear and see things (I’ve started to introduce PowerPoint presentations for the poor kids – best to get used to that life of pain to come!) and others will only ever learn by doing things. Building learning in to games helps to sink in some of the knowledge, adapting things like hikes to have more fun aspects like a photography hike to inspire them more over the miles. You also learn the importance of dealing with the main stakeholders – the parents! Keeping them engaged and listening to them ensures that you have one group working together. We have a parents’ rota every week and ask them to help with food over camp. This isn’t just because we need the additional numbers but because it helps them understand what we do and how things run.
Is that why I volunteer? No, it’s not the main reason. I remember those days as a Cub and the joys it brought, and I want new generations to have the same opportunities. I see that child at camp who, without prompting, lashes together sticks to help with his shelter. He never knew knots when he started Cubs but can now build his own shelter. I see that child who was terrified of heights but pushes himself to do the aerial walkway, struggle his way while shaking across it and at the end, decide to go around again. I see that child with attention deficit disorder who comes on camp and join in as one of the gang. I see that child standing in front of the mayor to receive the Silver Chief Scout Award. That’s why I volunteer.
So, if you have thought about signing up to volunteer somewhere then take that plunge. It doesn’t need to be Scouting, it could be helping to keep somewhere tidy or another charity. It doesn’t have to be dealing with people or children. There are plenty of chances to use the skills you have to help. You will get that chance for the sense of wellbeing and something to distract you from non-stop work. Make that step and you won’t look back. You’ll do things you never expected like possibly eating insects and covering yourself in bright green slime or joining two of your sons in marching through the town centre for St George’s Day.
If you’d like any advice on getting started in Scouting, then please do drop me a line and I’d love to hear from you about how you pay it back yourself.