I am seventy-one years old now and I have been volunteering at the YMCA since 1981. I have been playing handball since the age of ten. Most of the handball back then was seasonal as we only had outdoor and sub-standard indoor courts. So you can imagine how excited myself and the local handball group were when we heard our new Y was opening with regulation handball courts. I played recreationally and competitively for the next two years. I had no intention of volunteering as I was quite happy to be playing the game I loved three or four times a week. However, one day I was approached by four young boys who lived adjacent to the Y. They were intrigued by the game and wondered how they could become involved. I started instructing that small group and before I knew it, all the neighbourhood kids wanted to play handball. At that point, the program director at the Y approached me about incorporating handball into their program offerings.
By working closely with the Y administration we were able to develop a terrific program that incorporated the Y’s ideals of inclusiveness. Boys and girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds and varying degrees of athletic ability were all welcome. Seeing this group of kids having so much fun interacting with each other made me realize how rewarding my volunteer work had become. For them the program had numerous benefits: physical health; skill development; the opportunity to develop life-long friendships; and to become confident and capable adults. In fact, many of the children in the group went on to become Y volunteers themselves. The program also opened the door for players to travel all across Canada and the U.S, many of whom would not have had the resources to do so. The John’s YMCA handball program became recognized as being one of the top junior handball programs in Canada. It produced and continues to produce Regional, National and International champions.
We also adopted the same model into our adult program. All welcome! We brought existing Y members into the sport. Some who wanted to play because their children were playing, others who wanted to have a good workout while playing a fun game. Many of our handballers joined the Y simply so they could play handball. Although many of them were never involved in a sport before, they signed up for the program because they felt so at home with the relaxed atmosphere and the welcoming group of volunteers. We succeeded in making handball a family sport!
2021 marked the 40th anniversary of the St. John’s YMCA handball program and after all these years and at the tender age of 71, I still can’t wait to resume my volunteer role. If this sounds like a one-man show, it is quite the opposite. Over the years I have had great support from the Y and my fellow volunteers. People have often complemented me on how much time and energy I was putting into the Y program but I have to say that I got much more in return!