From cooking pancakes every Saturday morning for squad training to being Metro East’s district referee, Mark Laidlaw simply loves volunteering.
The father of three, who was recently awarded Life Membership of Nunawading Swimming Club, first started volunteering when his daughters took up the sport, and 13 years later, he still gets a huge amount of satisfaction from being an active member of the community.
“I just get so much out of it. I enjoy seeing kids do well, I enjoy participating and feeling like you are doing something and making a difference – I think that the people who don’t volunteer are missing out,” he said.
“They say ‘you are mad to do all these things, you aren’t getting paid’, but I look at the friendships I have made – I know all the kids and all the parents.
“The feeling I get isn’t tangible, it is something I just really feel myself. I understand it isn’t for everybody, but seeing the kids smile and say thank you or knowing when they have done a PB or when they recognise you in Bunnings and say hello, it is a beautiful feeling.”
It’s people like Laidlaw who are celebrated during National Volunteer Week, which beings today Monday 18 May and finishes on Sunday 24 May. It’s a special week which recognises around six million Australians who volunteer their time to different causes around the country.
One very important cause, which the squad kids loved and appreciated, was an initiative Laidlaw began with other volunteer parents at Nunawading – pancake day.
“There was a group of three or four ladies and myself that would do it every Saturday for about two or three years,” he said.
“We would make approx 14-16 litres of pancake mix and sit there and make M&M pancakes or raspberry and white choc pancakes just for the kids at the squad training.
“It was an excellent way to get to know the kids and sit round and have a yarn, I mean we were up at 4am anyway so we might as well sit round and do something!”
Laidlaw’s talents extend beyond whipping up batter and flipping pancakes, he’s also the district referee for Metro East – an important role within the swimming community.
“As district referee for Metro East, it means we organise the carnivals for all of our people, do all the rosters and try to encourage other younger people or parents to become volunteers,” he said.
“It isn’t for everybody but I am a big believer that a lot of these people don’t realise how much you get out of it and I can honestly say that I have seen kids from when they were 10 and now they are Olympic hopefuls and that is a wonderful thing.
“To get to know all of your children's friends, that has been great.”
While making friends has been a benefit of volunteering at the club, Laidlaw has also gained more confidence and grown as a person.
“When I started doing this it was also a way of throwing myself out there because as a person, I was reasonably shy.
“Now I have to stand up in front of people and give instructions to 300-400 people in a room, so personally I have grown in confidence amazingly since I started and that is definitely another thing I have gained out of volunteering.”
Although Laidlaw’s children no longer swim, his passion for the club and the friends he’s made keeps him entrenched on the committee.
“I found that when they (daughters) gave it up, I realised that most of my friends I had met through swimming, and most of the people we associate with on weekends…and as you are aware, once you’re a swimming parent, that pretty much takes over your life,” he laughed.
And what advice does Laidlaw have for others who might be thinking of volunteering?
“I would say you definitely have to give it a go. I have been very fortunate because Nunawading has been an exceptional club and I have met some amazing people there – you just need a few people that make it feel friendly and say come along.
“What I would suggest is don’t go overboard though, start when your children are there in attendance. If you could participate in some way, shape or form you might find you enjoy it, it is up to you how far you want to take it.
“From personal experience I have gained so many friendships and met so many lovely people that I will continue to volunteer, not only for Nunawading, but for Swimming Victoria and Metro East for as long as I am wanted.”
For more information on how you can get involved and volunteer you time, visit our volunteers page.