Truth be told, Ben Parker was nervous when he first started volunteering at Eastlake Football Club.
These days he’s part of the family, but he had joined as one of five volunteers with a disability and hadn’t spent a lot of time in the community.
Volunteers in the program assist Eastlake Football Club on game day with a wide range of jobs depending on their abilities, interests and suitability.
From running the canteen and manning the barbecue to delivering water or messages to the players, timekeeping, recording statistics and working the scoreboard, the work helps build capacity, skills and confidence in a safe and inclusive environment.
Ben reckons one of the greatest benefits of the program is feeling his opinions hold value.
“All of my suggestions to the football club are listened to,” he says.
“Once we were running a barbecue, and someone suggested we should put the sausages in the same tray as the bacon, but I said we should keep them separate in case there are people from backgrounds that don’t eat bacon. So, we kept them separate.
“Another time, my mate Janet made me an apron once out of an old pair of jeans. It gave me an idea, and I suggested we put a call out for people to donate their old jeans to be made into more aprons, which we could sell to raise funds for Jeans for Genes Day.”
Eastlake volunteer coordinator Allan Hasler says the opportunity to build capacity at the club has proven a gateway in various areas of life for Ben and the other volunteers.
He first brought the program to the club with a vision of building employability – but it has grown to much more.
“You could make an argument that it creates capacity in all areas of their lives,” he says.
“One of the volunteers told me it’s giving him confidence and skills to do more things in his day-to-day [life]. Another said by coming to the club, he now has the confidence to take his dog to the dog park without his support worker.
“That confidence and being out in the community translates into mental health benefits. It creates a positive mindset, which allows them to do more things, which benefits their physical health in the long run, which in turn makes them happier … and around and around it goes.”
Allan says the volunteers are valuable members of the team for Eastlake Football Club, with great capacity to develop skills in a safe and inclusive environment.
Eastlake is a point of pride for first grade team vice captain Tom Robertson.
“I’m very proud to be part of a football club that values inclusivity and diversity,” he says.
“Seeing volunteers with disabilities helping out on game day is a reminder that everyone has something to contribute and that we’re all part of the same community.”
Eastlake second grade team manager, club welfare officer and father of one of the participants, Daniel Kneebone, describes the program as a “win-win situation”.
“Our wonderful volunteers are an integral part of our football community. We welcome them with open arms,” he says.
“To have them thrive in roles they can learn and be comfortable in, and be able to socialise within footy circles, where our club benefits too by their efforts, is nothing short of fantastic.
“As a team manager and a club welfare officer, not to mention as a dad, it is such a blessing to see my son Will enjoying himself at Eastlake in such a setting. The same for all the fellas helping out. We couldn’t do it without them.”
Long term, Allan hopes to broaden the program’s inclusion, perhaps reaching culturally and linguistically diverse volunteers.
“At the end of the day, the best way to get involved in your community is to get involved with local organisations, whether it’s your local football club, sewing group or anything you’re interested in,” he says.
“Personally I don’t think sporting organisations necessarily need to take political positions, but I do believe they should show and demonstrate the values of society – those values being inclusion and diversity.”
For more information, visit Eastlake Football Club.