Volunteering: How Far is Too Far?

Volunteering for a particular cause or organisation is often a way of becoming extremely passionate about it. People can go to extreme lengths in terms of the time they dedicate and, in some circumstances, the risks they take to see their vision become a reality. In this blog, JVN Intern Elliot Cukier examines just how far people go to volunteer, and whether sometimes they exceed what is necessary and what is sensible.

“The sporting season is currently at its peak. Whether you’re a football fan looking so see whether Sir Alex Ferguson can lead Manchester united to a thirty third trophy under his reign, or whether you’re a Formula One fan looking to see whether Vettel can take a fourth drivers World Championship, you cannot fail to be excited by the drama. But something that nearly all these sports have in common as exemplified by London 2012 was the fact that none of them would be able to function without volunteers.

Every weekend at a football game some 300 stewards check that the fans all behave and stay in their seats throughout the game (although at Portsmouth vs. Brentford this week we saw otherwise), and although they might be paid to keep the peace, the hours they put in training to get there certainly aren’t paid. The same goes for Formula One, with stewards volunteering numerous hours to train to stand trackside and make sure we all have a good experience;  running on the track removing pieces of debris so that we as the fans get the best race we could have.steward football

But in the nicest possible way: are they mad????? Mad football fans are lethal even at the best of times and this was proven only a few months ago. A Stamford Bridge steward needed 10 minutes’ treatment from paramedics after falling to the floor during the Barclays Premier League game, with Chelsea confirming he had hurt his knee as Manchester United celebrated a winning goal in front of the home stands, with fans responding by hurling abuse and appearing to throw objects onto the field of play. He ended up going to hospital and the metropolitan police launched an investigation into the incident.


steward f1In Formula One the situation is no different. Stewards run onto the track while cars are racing around at aaverage speed of 181mph to try and clear debris from the track so as to not hamper the experience for the fans, but risking their lives at the same time. When a car crashes, they are ready and waiting to go on and rescue people from the wreckage, whatever the risk to themselves. If they were getting paid to do it then maybe we would expect it, but to spend all these hours knowing that you might not go home that evening takes astounding commitment. If we go back just over a decade to the Italian Grand Prix September 2000, David Coulthard nearly died in a five car pile up crash that took the life of a volunteer from the local town of Monza. In the Melbourne 2001 race, Jacques Villeneuve in his BAR collided with the rear of Ralf Schumacher’s Williams. The BAR car launched itself into the air and flew for almost 100 yards before hitting the barrier causing debris to fly in all directions as the car slid along the ground. A wheel travelling at 185mph struck the volunteer marshal who tragically lost his life as a result. These drivers get paid millions of pounds a year, and should the worst happen, their families would receive assistance to survive without them. These volunteer stewards get paid nothing and their families have to pick up the pieces without such support behind them should their lives be lost. But this happens all the time.

This week we celebrated Yom Haatzmaut, the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence. Celebrations took place all over the world, with, here in the UK,  a fantastic concert put on by the Zionist Federation and partners at Wembley Arena for everyone to enjoy.israel But if we seriously think about it, without volunteers who place their life on the line all the time, we wouldn’t be able to celebrate anything anyway.

As we all know, without the IDF Israel wouldn’t exist today, or certainly not as it currently does. Now I hear you say, “They get paid while they are in the army”. But they have a choice whether or not they volunteer. There are people that refuse army service from more orthodox or pacifist religious backgrounds and make a huge deal of it at the same time. So those who choose to serve are in effect volunteering because they want to make a difference. Just like the sports steward, they want to protect something they believe in. The football steward wants to see a clean game of football with no interruption; the F1 steward wants to see good racing with minimal stopping to clear away crashed cars; and the army cadet signs up to see a peaceful state that will last longer than 65 years.

Board of DeputiesAnd this is where JVN comes in. We at JVN want to see a successful British Jewish community, where all the charities that are providing services are able to function properly. And with times the way they are, more and more charities need volunteers to cover roles that in theory could be a paid role. JVN supports over 300 Jewish and non-Jewish charities and over 3,000 volunteers have chosen JVN to search for their next volunteering opportunity. If you, like us, want to see our community continue to flourish, visit our website and register to see be a part of that success.”

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Categories: Volunteering, Volunteering Perspectives

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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2 Comments on “Volunteering: How Far is Too Far?”

  1. April 19, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    It seems to me that Elliot Cukier has hit on some truths about society as a whole.Many of the aspects of our daily and public lives are smoothed by the efforts of varieties of forms of voluntary endeavour. From parks to religious sites the energies of volunteers are often crucial to their smooth running, or even their availability to the public. It is part of the fabric of a functioning society where people care sufficiently to offer time to enable some smooth functioning.
    However it does also appear that aspects of young peoples employment seem somewhat exploitative of that willingness to participate, particularly in the commercial world. If little or no training is offered to enhance skills and a young person is contributing to the running of a commercial enterprise, it seems morally incumbent on employers to reward according to ability and input.

    • April 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

      Hi Martin. Rest assured, we are offering Elliot some good training and experience, and he is a valuable member of our team! You’re right though, young people do tend to be exploited sometimes, but in this economic climate it is increasingly necessary to take unpaid internships in order to gain the experience necessary to secure paid work. Volunteering is undertaken for all sorts of reasons, sometimes personal gain, sometimes purely altruistic. If we want to to encourage people – especially young people – to volunteer for the right reasons (altruism, care for the community, a desire to help others, etc.) then it is important to realise that they have certain expectations of what they can gain from it, and we must not have too high an expectation of them. They are a useful asset, but young people who are essentially compelled by the world today to undertake voluntary work should not be seen merely as a substitute for professional work or as cheap labour.

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