Editorial: After the hearty votes of thanks

They reckon the hardest arithmetic to master is the sort that enables us to count our blessings.

In which case the Southland community awards are doubly worthwhile. It is a splendid thing in itself that the judges received 51 nominations; all the more so because this can only begin to capture the scale and depth of volunteerism going on in our community.

The supreme award in the TrustPower-sponsored event went to Cycling Southland, which for decades has drawn on a substantial and undeniably capable pool of volunteers to maintain the sport's profile nationally and internationally.

The Tour of Southland has attained the enviable alchemy of being able to attract supporters who, in turn, generate an event all the more likely to attract support in future. A case of success building, legitimately, on success.

Particular kudos went to Southland Girls' High School pupil Lydia Ward who took the community youth spirit award for her services to sports coaching and mentoring, as well as academic and cultural achievement.

It's said that volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart. Certainly the time Lydia has been devoting to coaching and mentoring struck the judges as "quite staggering".

Just a few years ago she was the centre of international attention for fending off a shark that had bitten through her wetsuit. She whacked it with her boogie board. Not that we are inviting comparisons but, if anything, her poise dealing with the subsequent attentions of the media was as great as it was during the shark attack. After which she had been looking forward to things quietening down to the stage "people would just forget about me". As things stand it's looking more likely that people will wind up remembering her for more substantive reasons.

Indications of our community's collective gratitude from events like these awards are welcome in themselves, though these must never be confused with the practical support our volunteers can need.

Consider, then, the Bluff Coastguard, which won the health and wellbeing section. Very gratifying, to be sure. But this outfit is still sorely in need of a bigger, faster boat more capable of heading out into the rougher seas of Foveaux Strait. Ours for just $1.2 million.

Sheesh. This is a huge challenge but there's nothing like the prospect of lives being saved or lost to add some motivational oomph to the fundraising efforts - and, we would all like to think, to the level of support out there.

Sometimes volunteerism does deal with scary, high-stakes issues like this. Far more often, it is an entirely understated, almost under-the-radar matter, conducted by people beavering away, cheerfully enough, in the background. Which makes it all the more fun to occasionally mortify them by hauling them out into the limelight for a spell.

Volunteerism worldwide is said to be on the decline for reasons that might kindly be put down to the amount of spare time people have, but more properly have more to do with the personal priorities they set. A great many of us could do more.

And remember the wee encouragement: if you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in bed with a mosquito.

The Southland Times