One of the things that make life in a small, rural community so interesting is that we have to create our own opportunities. We manage to find ways to entertain ourselves, our families and our friends even though we don’t have access to all the resources, organizations, and facilities that folks in the city or suburbs have. We don’t have the population base to support and fund a lot of infrastructure and so we are often left to make do with what we can piece together from what we already have. We often have to create our own entertainment, build our own organizations, and support ourselves to create our own vibrant and active community.
One of the ways that we can judge vibrancy is by the activities that we are able to provide for our youth. Creating organized activities for children is one of the really big challenges for rural communities. I have often heard that “…there is nothing for kids to do in Vernonia.” It is true that we don’t have movie theaters, bowling alleys, sports teams for all ages and jobs for teens that want them. What we do have are a lot of parents and volunteers who give a lot of their time to organize and provide activities for our children. We have very active groups like the PTA, Boosters and Scouts who support activities for youth in our community. We have a host of volunteer coaches and parents who help with youth sports, including Little Guy football, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball.
These volunteers are the lifeblood of our small, rural community. They fill in the gaps where paid professional staff, well-funded associations, and organized infrastructure would normally be in larger communities.
The recent success of the Senior National Boys Baseball team is a great example of parents and adults coming together to create an opportunity for our youth. With not enough boys to fill out a roster, head volunteer Coach Joe Walters found a younger boy with the skill level to play on his team and a player from outside the area and received waivers so his team could compete. Parents helped with coaching, driving to games, field preparation and more. The boys won their county tournament and made a trip to Corvallis, competing in the state tournament, creating memories they will have for the rest of their lives in the process. That could have never happened without adult volunteers. This is just one of many examples in our community of volunteers making activities happen for our youth.
Through volunteering we can get so much more than just helping our children. Volunteers get the chance to interact with their neighbors and get to know more people within their community. Volunteers get to meet other families who share similar interests and have children who are the same age. They make friends, support important and vital activities, provide places for our kids to interact and be involved, and give back to their community.
Unfortunately, sometimes there are not enough volunteers to go around.
I have spoken to several volunteer leaders in recent months who are concerned about the lack of volunteer parents and adults stepping forward to help the organizations who really need them. Some local groups are being forced to cut back on the services and activities they offer in our community because they don’t have the volunteers they need to run their programs.
The volunteer base in a small community often ebbs and flows. Sometimes you have a handful of people with extra time and energy who can really make a program flourish-or even numerous programs, in many instances.
Parents often get involved because they have a child participating in an activity. But what happens when that child ages out of a particular activity or loses interest? What happens when the child of the team coach is no longer part of that team? Often the parent volunteer moves on as well.
If we want to continue to have opportunities for our youth to be involved in activities we need more adult volunteers to come forward, give their time and volunteer, especially parents of young families.
One volunteer I spoke with recently said that they often hear adults reply that “…I was never asked.” Well, if you are reading this, consider yourself asked. There are plenty of groups out there that could use an extra hand.
I understand that sometimes it is hard for people to make time to volunteer. Work and other obligations have to take priority. You may already pay a fee to allow your child to participate in a particular group or activity and consider that your participation.
But if you are a family that is using some of the services and taking part in the activities provided by local organizations, please consider finding a way and offering to volunteer. Our small, rural community and our youth need and want you to help create those opportunities and memories.