Crisp, cold mornings.
Coach’s instructions, positional play, marks and missed tackles.
Wet grass, strapped ankles, footy boots echoing on concrete floors; the all-pervading aroma of Deep Heat.
Reclink’s Australian Rules football games are an annual highlight for the Salvos Hawks players, who come from homelessness services, Gamblers’ Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.
While the Reclink story is a success and a positive experience for its participants, it’s not as generally well understood that Reclink is also a big winner for the corporate volunteers who offer to put their time and energies into supporting the games.
For Huwy Jones, Associate Director of Michael Page Finance, the Reclink gig was familiar enough to help bridge some gaps in understanding and experience for the 14 volunteers from his recruiting firm who rocked up to help with umpiring, scoring and refreshments, etc.
‘As well as sponsoring the day – the players were competing for the “Michael Page Cup” –we ended up coaching and running water for the players,’ Huwy explains.
‘We’d been able to organise the donation of 10 pairs of football boots from Adidas, Rotary sponsored the meals, and we also contributed “best on ground” medals for both teams.’
A 38-year-old who’d only recently hung up his footy boots himself, Huwy was pleasantly surprised by the level of play and the approach of the players.
‘The footy was a good standard, there was some pace on display and some impressive goals from the boundary line,’ Huwy recalls, adding that ‘everyone played to the best of their ability’.
Huwy particularly appreciated Reclink's approach to inclusiveness, where female players and players with disabilities have special rules applied to them, to ensure they are protected from injury. These players wear a fluorescent vest to indicate to other players that they are not to be tackled.
‘It was competitive but fair,’ Huwy says, ‘and our players loved the new boots, because it means more than just a pair of boots – it means someone cares.’
These men and women weren’t playing for cattle stations, but they were willing to put their bodies on the line and have a crack. That means a great deal to Australians.
‘Our volunteers who had a football background were happy to engage one-on-one; that’s how you build relationships,’ says Huwy.
‘I know the Salvos Hawks aren’t just about winning, but also about what you do and how you do it. People were coming up to their teammates and opponents and asking, “Are you okay?”’
At Michael Page team meetings thereafter, Huwy says his team members were sitting together and talking about their volunteering experiences. ‘Volunteering had a deep impact,’ he says. ‘It was an eye-opener for my work colleagues; a non-threatening entrée for people who haven’t volunteered before.
‘We also offered, afterwards, to advise the players about their CVs and job interview techniques.’
A game was had. The ball bounced on its merry, unpredictable way. The Salvo Hawks beat their Geelong opponents and people felt good about themselves and their efforts.
How does Huwy think the players came out of the day?
‘Their enjoyment was real, and they were genuinely thankful to us. They all stayed and cleaned up the rooms afterwards – that doesn’t happen at many clubs – and there was a genuine care being shown for each other.
‘I think the game was a welcome break; an escape and distraction from their situations,’ Huwy says.
‘For the time they are on the paddock, they are not people who are addicted, or homeless. They transcend that reality for a time; they’re footy players.’
‘Volunteering is a great pathway for corporates and organisations to see a little of what we do, ‘explains the Salvos’ Victorian Volunteer Resources Coordinator Ciska Burrie.
‘Corporates want the experience to be meaningful for their employees.
‘We also get groups like PWC telling us, “We don’t want to just volunteer – we want to help solve these problems.”’
Addressing people’s issues is a great first step towards solving them, and volunteers can gain as they give. The whistle may call time on any given day, but there are always opportunities for return bouts