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Confessions of a reluctant volunteer

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

You can ask my mom, I’m not a joiner by nature. In kindergarten, I refused to participate in the “Hokey Pokey” on the grounds it was an undignified embarrassment. At age nine, I ran away from Cub camp because I objected to its militaristic regime. Even today, our favourite bumper sticker—I Love Bowness—seems cloying to me. So how is it exactly that I became a poster boy for community boosterism?

Community spirit â la Scott. Of course, community service doesn’t necessarily demand riding on adult-sized trikes and shouting loudly from megaphones. Choose your own flavour. And c’mon and get some. Elections for BCA directors will be held Oct. 25 at the BCA AGM. Give a hoot for the hometown!

My first ‘volunteer’ effort was anything but altruistic. In exchange for $500 towards my kids’ outstanding fees, I was hired to install a linoleum floor at the local daycare. Over 100 man hours later, I quit—in part because the place was haunted and all those community spirits were freaking me out.

Next, I was flattered to be asked to shill for the “Bowness Gathering Place,” a proposed multimillion-dollar renovation of our old Sportsplex. We built a little float for the Bowness Stampede Parade, promising big things to come. The day before the parade, those charitable dollars were unceremoniously revoked. The float was still good to go, though, so we strolled the parade route that year in praise of a dead idea.

I suppose I was vulnerable, then, guilted by all this unfinished business, when a call went out for residents to form a new board of directors for the Bowness Community Association. A dozen of us attended that first meeting and the pitch was simple. Without a viable board of residents in place, the Sportsplex facility could be sold and the buyer held to no community obligation whatsoever. All monies from the arena, hall rentals, bingo, et cetera would be lost to neighbourhood programs—projects like this very Bowest’ner you hold in your hands.

The Sportsplex and adjacent Bowness Plaza strip mall sit on the cusp of urban blight. The public library fights for elbow room with a local pub, vacant stores and messy lots. Take away community ownership of the Sportsplex and we lose one anchor in a struggling landscape, along with the necessary revenue to improve it. And the Sportsplex isn’t what it could be. The arena operates mostly as a hub for hockey families from surrounding areas and the hall hosts bingo and not much more. Maybe we could do better.

OK, I admit I’m not exactly board material. But in this case, warm bodies with a regular pulse were as much in demand as ingenuity and professionalism. So alongside several other better qualified rookies, I signed on. So far, I’ve organized a couple of winter carnivals for the kids (Hokey Pokey anyone?) and helped resurrect this little newsletter. It’s been no bake sale for our executive, however. President Derek, vice-president Michelle and treasurer Linda have done all the heavy lifting to meet the very real challenges—financial, legal and operational—of keeping our hall and arena a going concern.

Two years later, the new BCA is still standing if not exactly expanding. We’re looking to fill three key positions on the board of directors at this year’s AGM—vice-president, treasurer and events. The board will need new blood to survive and here’s the rub. How do you encourage others to jump right in and shake it all about for what can sometimes seem like a thankless task? Sure, it looks good on the resumé. Yes, keeping ownership of the Sportsplex is an honorable pursuit. And, I confess: I do love Bowness for keeping it real in a city running wild on credit. But, really, why bother?

Well, I do it because I’m a card-carrying introvert otherwise unable to meaningfully interact with other human beings. They say trust is built one conversation at a time, but when you’re a disaster at small talk you gotta compensate, man. My ongoing work with the BCA has allowed me to generate some shared history, projects, goals and more than a few laughs—trust, in other words—with a group of neighbours who normally I wouldn’t look in the eye for too long. The BCA gave me the funds and freedom to see if some of my ideas would fly (the jury is still out on “Ice Trike”) and the latitude to make mistakes and try again in a public forum much more forgiving than a paid work environment. It’s been like kindergarten for this late-blooming adult.

The annual Bowness AGM elections are scheduled for 6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 25. Boundless, accomplished extroverts and joiners of all kinds are encouraged to enlist, of course. Those types always are. If, however, you’re absolutely none of these things, I strongly suggest you still sign on for some volunteer community board service. You, more than most, might just get paid in full. Trust me.

—Scott Penny

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