Volunteer with a community group

It has taken a while to get to this item from my bucket list but I think I can now claim to have done enough to tick it off. As with other items on my list I wanted to have something specifically for this purpose rather than something historical.

I’ve mostly tended to avoid ongoing commitments to community groups. That may be for reasons similar to those that have kept me out of sports clubs and fixtures. I’m no more averse to helping out than I am to physical activity but I have not been keen on being locked into times and places. Outside of work commitments I have preferred to maintain flexibility.

In the 80s I was invited to join a service club but declined. I was not impressed by the pitch for the club that it was not like others in which members actually did the work but was more about managing to get other people to do things. That seemed elitist and no more my style than junior versions of such clubs I had encountered where members seemed keen to inflate their own status. I know that’s not a fair characterisation of service club members and the valuable work they do but it was a turn-off at the time.

Over the years I have been active as a volunteer in a variety of professional and work related roles in trade unions and professional associations. In the latter case my involvement has been at local, state and international levels and has involved committee work, editing of magazines and journals, and a considerable volume of reading and commenting as a reviewer for various conferences and journals. I’m still doing reviews but thought that would not meet the criterion for inclusion among the bucket list items.

As I approached retirement through last year, Glen Postle encouraged me to get involved with Toowoomba Flexi School where he has been integral since it began 20 years ago this year. I did have some involvement with Flexi working with Glen in the early 2000s, when there were efforts to use distance and online courses to support students, but became busy with other work and lost touch with it.

Glen has made his work with Flexi a significant part of his contribution in retirement and, with his effort and support from Toowoomba Regional Council and a variety of community organisations, it has gone from strength to strength, making a big difference to the educational prospects of young people who might otherwise drop out. One significant form of support has been through volunteer mentoring. Initially that involved members of The Older Men’s Network (TOMNET) but now includes women and other non-TOMNET members, though with TOMNET still managing registration and insurance of volunteers. In 2016 an impressive new building funded by grants and fundraising totalling about $1 million was opened and named the Glen Postle Intergenerational Mentoring Hub in honour of Glen’s contribution.

The success of intergenerational mentoring at Toowoomba Flexi School has encouraged efforts to establish similar programs in rural centres beyond Toowoomba. Supporting mentors at a distance presents challenges that Glen thought could be addressed using online methods and it was in that area that he thought I might make a contribution. Having taught secondary school and university I am comfortable working with young people and I was interested in the online aspect so I was happy to get involved.

flexi_tomnetEven if my major contribution over time might be through whatever online activity evolves around the mentoring program, I thought it would be important to have some knowledge and experience of mentoring as it happens at Flexi. Getting involved in mentoring was the obvious way to learn so early this year I visited Flexi to meet some of the other people involved, attended a short training session for mentors, and started the sign up process. That required a visit to TOMNET to complete some forms for registration, which entails a police check and blue card (working with children) application. I was able to bypass that by virtue of my teacher registration which is still current. I was surprised at how much effort was involved just to be permitted to volunteer.

A couple of weeks later I had all the necessary clearances and I was able to participate in the mentoring activity. I’ve been spending an hour or so on Monday mornings at Flexi for that purpose with a group of mentors and some senior students. One of the teachers will initiate an activity and we typically then work with an individual student on that activity or whatever topic suits. I’ve been paired with a young man who attends classes 3 days a week and has work-based training with a motorcycle business on the other days. It has helped that I have sons-in-law and grandsons who are keen on bikes. Now that I’ve completed a term and am about to disappear for a few weeks of travel I think I can justify ticking this off on my bucket list.

Along the way I have been involved in some other activity at Flexi associated with the 20th anniversary celebrations. I’ve been to a couple of meetings and created a Facebook page intended to attract Flexi alumni. I expect I may be drawn into other aspects over time.