Building Community- One Hit at a Time

Way back in November, before all of the holes in our house were sealed up, before we had furniture, in fact, before we had water, we met our first neighbor.

We had just spent the first full night in our house sleeping on sleeping bags laid upon camping mattresses in the one room not completely filled with rubbish. We had woken up, and Nelson had boiled some water on the camping stove to make a cup of coffee. We might have been tapping on the studs to figure out which ones were completely rotted through and which could be salvaged. Or maybe we were sweeping away the ten years worth of dust that had accumulated in a thick layer on the floors and window sills. Or, its very possible that we were just standing amongst half built framing and graftti-covered walls pondering what we had gotten ourselves into and where exactly to start.

We heard a familiar sound. Thwap. Thwap. Out of the small dining room window something caught our eye. Our neighbor was throwing a softball. Maybe they were part of a team. Maybe there was a social league. Visions of lollipop pitches and kegs of beer ran through my head. I cautiously stepped out onto our rickety deck to say hi.

Our neighbor’s name was Des, and she did play, or rather, used to play, in a women’s fast pitch league. Her loyalties remained strong and once she heard I played softball in America it was all over (never mind that the last time I played fastpitch was over 10 years ago- in highschool). Within five minutes I had a text message from the coach. I was recruited to the Athletics Women’s Fast-Pitch Team.

Des asked how the house was going. Shocked that Nelson was boiling water on a camping stove, she insisted that we have a proper way of making a cuppa, and gifted us an electric kettle and some mugs otherwise headed for the op-shop. Too embarrassed to tell her we had no power yet, we happily accepted the gift, and it has definitely come in handy. Not only can we make a cuppa at the end of a hard day, but those mugs quickly became Nelson’s favorites. Delivering not only a dose of tea (or wine), but also a self esteem boost, with every tip up.

The mugs were the first of many “gifts” that we’ve received as members of the Athletics Club. Because it turns out that after initiation we became part of a whanau (family) that stretches across three generations, linking our community through sport. (Oh yes, I said initiation. We were hazed. And let me tell you, people, fizzy drinks, dizzy bats, and bourbon and cola do not mix well. Not in this belly). Our club sponsors kids teams, social teams, and adult fast pitch teams. Everyone helps to coach, umpire, and mind the little ones so that everyone can learn about the game, play hard, and enjoy themselves.

The head of the organization are “Ma” and “Pa”. One of their daughters is the coach of my team and another is the pitcher. Two of their granddaughters also play on the fast pitch team, and the rest of their moko are anxiously awaiting the day they are old enough to play on the “senior’s” teams. I was renamed “Yankee” on the first day of practice, and then as MC was slowly roped into playing a few games here and there, he was nicknamed “Boston”. We are part of the club now. We are part of the whanau.

Where am I going with all this?

There is a lot of emphasis placed on “building community” in permaculture and transition towns literature and even in the media beyond the “green” world. I would say that there are some definite lessons that can be learned from our softball club, and other sports clubs in this regard.

1. Activities that the whole family can participate in link parents to their kids, kids to other kids, and adults to other adults.

2. People want to belong. Creating a strong group culture through initiations, prize givings, and even nick names makes people feel like they are part of something bigger.

3. Softball is fun! We have fun together. And when people are having a good time they want to include their co-workers, friends, and neighbors. Social activities have a way of drawing people in that is different than courses, workshops, documentaries, lectures, etc.

And finally, and this is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned, if you want to connect with different sectors of your community, you need to jump in and not be afraid of being different. We had a wide circle of acquaintances before I started playing softball. We had met them through the environment centre, permaculture gatherings, and other like places. Our friends were mostly… tree-huggers.

Playing softball for Athletics has allowed us to connect with people that are… not necessarily tree-huggers. It has opened up an avenue to form meaningful relationships. I am one of the only pakeha girls on the team. We are likely the only ones with a solar cooker. But I sure can smack the hell out of a softball.
-June Cleverer

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