Volunteers showcase the power of change
Award-winning volunteer Julie Polkinghorne, who has supported her tennis community for over 30 years, embodies the “Change Makers” theme of National Volunteers Week.
As the thousands of Australians who generously contribute their time to tennis throughout the nation are celebrated throughout National Volunteers Week, there are few people more qualified to comment on the 2023 theme of “The Change Makers” than Julie Polkinghorne.
The long-time resident of Port Lincoln, South Australia, has been tirelessly working within her local tennis community for more than three decades – firstly as a captain, then as a committee member and subsequently as President of the Port Lincoln Tennis Association for close to 20 years.
Within that period, Polkinghorne has driven the Port Lincoln Tennis Association’s transformation to a 16-court facility with fully renovated club rooms. Alongside her husband, Paul, she has also helped create opportunities for regional players to thrive.
“We had big ambitions of what we wanted to achieve and you hope you can get those ideas across the line,” Polkinghorne told tennis.com.au. “But I think probably by next year we’ll have ticked every single box that we want to tick.”
Combining her efforts within the tennis community with a busy full-time role as a Retail Manager, in which she oversees around 30 staff members, Polkinghorne estimates she spends around 20 hours per week volunteering. “Sometimes it’s more than that,” she adds.
But the rewards are infinite for the South Australian, who was named Volunteer of the Year at the 2022 Australian Tennis Awards and is twice a recipient of Tennis SA’s Rural Volunteer Achievement Award.
Those accolades, Polkinghorne notes, are not only personally rewarding but also provide recognition for the many contributors to the Port Lincoln Tennis Association’s growth. While the extensive facilities overhaul has been helped by support from local council, Tennis Australia, Tennis SA and grant funding, around one-third of the million-dollar-plus spend was generated by fundraising efforts within the community.
“We’ve had so much support and that’s why I felt really honoured when I was awarded the Volunteer of the Year because it’s not just about me, it’s about our whole community and the people that surround us,” Polkinghorne enthuses.
“I could never ever achieve what’s been achieved without those people. I’ve had a fantastic support network and great relationships.”
It’s unsurprising then, that it’s connecting with people that Polkinghorne most values from a lifetime of volunteering, which also includes a role as the Eyre Peninsula’s regional coordinator for the Foundation Cup.
“You do form some fantastic relationships … it really is a network that you start forming,” Polkinghorne says.
“That’s probably why we’ve had so many people that are willing to volunteer in our organisation because that’s the vibe that we want people to have – it’s not just about a community sport, it’s about a family and you look out for everyone.”
Expanding opportunities for Port Lincoln’s junior players is another highlight, particularly given the Polkinghorne family’s first-hand experience after their son Darren, a talented player, progressed to professional level.
“Once we could see what other clubs and associations were doing, that was probably our main motivation because we ended up travelling all over Australia with Darren,” Polkinghorne explains.
“Everywhere we’d go, we would have a look at their programs, what facilities they had and try to bring back some of those ideas to our local regions.”
With many of those plans now fulfilled, Julie appreciates the importance of a succession plan.
“There’s still a couple of things that I need to cross off the list and once that happens, I’ll be happy to hand over to the next generation, knowing that the facilities are at a standard that I’m happy for them to take over,” she says. “They’re not going to have the hard yards that we had 20 years ago.”
And it’s with an appreciation of both how far her organisation has come, and opportunities for the future, that Julie encourages others to invest their time in the sport.
“Don’t just sit back and watch people do it, get out there and make a difference,” Polkinghorne adds. “Because without volunteers, sporting organisations wouldn’t exist.”
Book online, play today: Visit play.tennis.com.au to get out on court and have some fun!