Wilsonville community groups try to maintain momentum as pandemic persists
This story was updated from its original version
Keeping a volunteer-based organization thriving has often proved a somewhat tricky proposition. As Wilsonville Youth Football Director Casey Carpenter put it: "Any time you ask people to do something for free, it becomes significantly more difficult."
But amid a raging pandemic, previous challenges exacerbate while new ones arise.
Two years into the pandemic, Wilsonville groups ranging from youth sports organizations to community service clubs have stayed afloat and continue to do positive work in the community, but some struggle with things like maintaining volunteer support and enthusiasm and performing as many projects as they used to.
In terms of youth sports, Carpenter said fewer people have wanted to risk exposing themselves to COVID-19 and therefore both the volunteer and player base has decreased. Participation was decreasing prior to that, he said, due to heightened awareness of concussion side effects. And with fewer volunteers, more tasks fall on directors and other existing volunteers. Carpenter said he could use an equipment manager, a fundraising volunteer and someone to schedule field usage. He also will need a successor after he steps down following next season.
"I know all the program directors in Wilsonville. It's universal. All of us have a difficult time getting people to coach and volunteer," Carpenter said. "Because we're a nonprofit, we try to keep the cost down for individual players, (and) fundraising and volunteer work is required to have a program run successfully. You need a lot of helping hands and there's not a lot of people who are comfortable doing it, want to do it or have the time to do it."
Wilsonville Youth Lacrosse President Dana Crocker said the organization is actively recruiting coaches at all levels. Last year, Crocker needed to take on a coaching role because there weren't enough coaches. She added that the lost season in 2020 forestalled the momentum the program was building.
Both Crocker and Carpenter noted that prospective coaches don't need to be well versed in the sport to take on the role. The organizations can provide them with resources to help them learn the rules.
"If you have a heart for serving with kids, we would be more than happy to have you," she said.
Crocker further emphasized that the organization is always looking for the next generation of volunteers who can help out so that it can continue as time goes on and current volunteers move on. And she wholeheartedly believes in the power and importance of youth sports.
"I think giving the kids the opportunity to play sports builds their own self confidence, being involved in something as a team builds relationship skills, (and it's) good for mental and emotional health let alone physical health," she said.
Additionally, Wilsonville Youth Sports — which oversees football, baseball, wrestling and softball programs — is seeking board members. Meetings are on Zoom and President Cadence Fee said the pandemic has meant the organization isn't out in the community as much, which makes it harder to recruit members. Some open positions include vice president, treasurer, registrar and board members at large as well as a director of cheer. Carpenter added that volunteers in Wilsonville Youth Sports are often having to cover multiple sports to keep things going.
"I grew up playing many sports, so giving that back is why I'm doing it," Fee said.
Wilsonville Little League, however, hasn't faced these same struggles, according to President Kelsey Swift. She said the organization has plenty of coaches and other volunteers ready to step up. A couple small pandemic impacts, Swift said, have been challenges with scheduling fields and the newfound need to schedule games with teams outside of Wilsonville. The player pool has also decreased about 20%, she added.
"I think Little League is uniquely community oriented … There's a good community base we've got. There are 15 members on our board that are all very actively involved in helping out," Swift said.
As for other community organizations, the Wilsonville-Boones Ferry Historical Society has maintained projects such as archiving and digitizing historical materials it has collected over the years. But jumpstarting other ambitious projects like the proposed creation of a historical trail through town, President Steve Van Wechel said, is not possible without more volunteers. The group has eight active members currently and that base has remained relatively stagnant during the pandemic. The group recently switched from hosting meetings monthly to quarterly and the meetings continue to take place over Zoom.
"It hasn't been easy. We've had to learn some new steps because of Zoom meetings. Things have slowed down a little bit here. We haven't been able to do as much stuff. We're taking things fairly well in stride and going on," he said, later adding: "That's one of my priorities, I want new people and I'm struggling trying to get that to become an emphasis."
Historical society member and Wilsonville City Councilor Charlotte Lehan said not being able to host in-person events like the history nights at Wilsonville Old Church and Pub has been a hindrance.
"We can't do as much in the way of events. That makes it hard to recruit new members," she said.
Membership in the Rotary Club of Wilsonville, however, has increased during the pandemic, according to longtime volunteer Laura LaJoie Bishop. Still, the group hasn't been able to volunteer as much in the community as in the past. Staples like omelet breakfast fundraisers for other local organizations and the Through A Child's Eyes event for Coffee Creek Correctional Facility adults in custody and their kids have been tabled. The Rotary has shifted focus to events that don't require as many people, such as helping out at the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's Family Empowerment Center and at assisting Wilsonville Community Seniors' spaghetti takeout dinner fundraiser.
As the pandemic persists, fears about getting out into the community do as well.
"There are people who don't want to be gathering. They're willing to give money but not time and their presence," LaJoie Bishop said. "In this COVID environment it's caused a lot of people to be hyper aware, hyper cautious, especially now with another ravaging of COVID in the last week. People are being hyper cautious or putting themselves in a position where they could get it."
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