Joanne O’Riordan: Volunteers have given so much to our country
Think of unsung hero who made you a cup of tea to remind you comeback is bigger than setback
Voluntary work is often considered a pillar of the community, and it is these people who bind our community together. Photograph: Getty Images
We all know a volunteer or have volunteered from time to time. We have all felt the power of throwing on a high-vis vest and being safe in the knowledge that the law is behind you.
We all know the people who make the sandwiches, and have nicely arranged the biscuits just so everyone can try at least one. We all know the person who stands on the sideline and hands out the bibs, puts out the cones or gives words of encouragement to those who need it. Long story short, we all know or are a volunteer.
Voluntary work is often considered a pillar of the community, and it is these people who bind our community together. They showcase what good can come if we all come together and use our talents, skills and assets to make the community a better place.
Volunteering creates networks and builds community relationships like no other. Across healthcare, environment and sports, the work that is being done by unsung heroes continues to strengthen communities across Ireland.
Throughout our history it is well known how the government relies on volunteers to bind together communities and ensure events run smoothly.
Internationally there were 140,000 volunteers across two Olympics (2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London); more than 80,000 registered for the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil (10,000 more than did so for South Africa 2010); and there are just under 500,000 volunteers in Ireland every day organising, lobbying, sandwich-making, jersey-washing and encouraging the best from everybody.
Volunteerism provides a form of social integration and a way of developing community relations that no other service could possibly offer.
It is an outlet and a kind of socialisation for every person. It bridges gaps between old and young, providing lifelong friendships for those who would not have met otherwise. It provides a service that is desperately needed for those who are just seeking an outlet.
Behind every Irish World, Olympic, Paralympic and European champion you can guarantee a proud volunteer is watching from the stand or sideline.
An unsung hero or volunteer can literally be anyone.
Think of your enthusiastic and supportive parent who drives you around the country twice over. Think of the coach that pushed you and encouraged you to shatter glass ceilings and be the best version that you can be.
Think of the person in the shop who has made you your recovery meal and a warm cup of tea that reminds you the comeback is bigger than the setback.
Volunteers are the ones that sort you out mentally and physically leading up to any competition, and they are also with you at the beginning and end of every day. They share the highs and lows with you.
Two years ago I wrote about wheelchair hurling and how it encourages those living with a disability to emerge from their shell and do what every sports mad person dreams of – representing their parish, club and county on an All-Ireland stage.
When I attended the All-Ireland finals in Sligo two years ago I was struck by the sense of community that existed between people who were either meeting for the first time or people who were incredibly casually acquainted.
Apart from everyone sharing the common goal of winning and becoming All-Ireland champions, the other universal goal was to give those who had never had the opportunity to express themselves in a way they had never done before.
There was never an air of pity or patronising, it was just a group of people who loved their sport and wanted to share that love among those who just accepted that their role was on the sidelines.
With the quick and creative thinking of GAA volunteers, those who are now wheelchair-users can freely express their hurling passion and release feelings that are not usually expressed by those living with disabilities.
It provides a social outlet for not only those living with a disability but those who are around and support them. The social aspect is absolutely huge, and you can tell that friendships and bonds have been solidified for life.
The National Volunteers in Sport Awards started in 2007, and is organised by the Federation of Irish Sports. The federation represents 74 national governing bodies, 26 local sports partnerships and over 12,000 sports clubs nationwide. It estimates there are now 500,000 adults volunteering in Irish sport, which may be worth close to €3 billion each year to Irish sport.
As the volunteers’ awards come around again – the deadline for nominations is September 29th – don’t forget to nominate the unsung hero that popped into your head and ticked every box throughout this column.
Volunteers have given so much to our country, it’s time we give back to them.