53. Ben Smith

22 Apr

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Ben Smith’s motivation to volunteer is simple.

“See a need, fill a need,” the 22-year-old says.

Up to two times a week, Ben volunteers at Boots For All, a not-for-profit organisation that collects and distributes second-hand sporting equipment.

“Boots For All is a sports recycling place, we gather used equipment that’s still in good condition, clean it up and donate it to people in need,” Ben says.

Ben got involved with the organisation after they visited his local football club about three years ago.

“I came down to football training one day, and there were these random people washing boots outside the club. I asked them what they were doing, and they explained that they were washing the boots, recycling them and giving them to people in need,” he says.

“That made perfect sense to me, so I just got involved from there.”

The group, which consists of about 30-40 people, collects football boots, runners, cricket bats, tennis balls, basketballs, and any other unwanted equipment.

“We have donation bins and donation partners, so at schools and sporting clubs. They often come forward, or we go to them, and they give us any excess sporting equipment that they don’t need.”

There is a Boots For All store, located on Sherbourne Road in Briar Hill, where people can come and purchase the recycled boots for as little as $5.

Ben says it’s frustrating to see how much sporting equipment can be wasted.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of equipment that’s not used, and just thrown out. And some of it’s in really good condition, almost new,” he says.

Ben says he’s always amazed to see how many people know about the organisation.

“It’s not really big on social media, it’s more spread through word of mouth. I’m surprised how many other communities know about us, I don’t understand how the word gets out.”

Boots For All has a few big named ambassadors, including Carlton FC and Essendon FC players, and The Biggest Loser trainer Tiffany Hall.

The organisation aims to break down barriers that may prevent young people from participating in sport. Ben believes that by providing vulnerable Australians with cheap and accessible equipment, they’ll be more able to get involved.

“I’ve been around sport all my life, and I know the impact it has on people’s lives, especially those that can’t afford to play.”

Ben admits that he was a hyperactive kid, which is probably why he played so much sport.

“I’ve played far too many sports over my lifetime, football, soccer, swimming, cricket, squash and gymnastics, just to name a few.”

Ben says it’s incredibly rewarding to see kids playing and enjoying sport while using equipment sourced from Boots For All.

“A lot of kids up in the Northern Territory don’t have access to football boots, shoes, balls, anything. They run around bare foot, kicking old footballs in the sand. We got funding to send them up some boots, and we later got a video of them playing around with the equipment, and it was amazing,” he says.

“I’ve seen a few local examples too. There are some single-parent families, with 4-5 kids, who just can’t afford to pay $200 for a pair of boots. Every now and again you see the kids wearing the boots, it’s really good to see.”

Ben is also passionate about the environment. He recently completed a Bachelor of Environmental Management, Sustainability and Policy Management at Deakin University, and is currently part of the natural resource management team at Melbourne Water.

“We go around removing weeds, rubbish, cleaning, surveying, planting animal identification throughout the catchments, making sure the diversity is high, and ensuring that ecosystem services, like water purification, are maintained throughout our water system,” he says.

Ben also volunteers at the Anderson’s Creek Land Care Group.

“It’s a local group that works to clean up Anderson’s Creek in Warrandyte. We do the same as Melbourne Water, but specifically around the creek,” he says.

Thanks to the hard work of the group, who plant plants and pull weeds, there’s been massive improvement to the creek and its surrounding environment.

“Growing up I was always out in the backyard, playing in the environment, so I saw what it can be, in comparison to what it is now,” Ben says.

“I just can’t believe how some people treat a local park, or a local creek. It’s unbelievable.”

Ben says that with work, and volunteering at these two organisations, he’s barely able to squeeze in anything else.

“It’s getting more and more difficult to find time to volunteer, especially fitting it around work and life in general.”

He says there are many ways you can volunteer with an organisation.

“You can either be a bit of an outsider that comes in every now and again to help, or you can get drawn in and become part of the major system,” he says.

“It can be very demanding and time consuming.”

But Ben says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t think much will change in ten years. I’ll stay in the same area, do the same things, and I’ll definitely still be volunteering.”

He’ll probably also remain as modest as he is today.

When asked why he thought he was nominated for Banyule100, his response was simply “I don’t know”.

Hopefully after reading this profile, he’ll see that he is overwhelmingly deserving of such recognition.

He saw a need, and he filled the need.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Sean Porter


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