MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Like many volunteers, Leigh Robinson did not want to be the centre of attention when asked about his involvement in giving disadvantaged and at-risk youth something to do on Saturday nights.
Mr Robinson and dozens of other volunteers have made Twilight Tournaments so successful that more support is being sought to help a growing number of teenagers.
Twilight Tournaments are now in their third year but what has been achieved since 2009 might not have occurred had it not been for the drive of volunteers such as Leigh Robinson and Rebecca Bell and program manager Darren Bell, of Access Community Services.
Mr Robinson is the logistics co-ordinator and was involved at the beginning when the Twilight Tournaments initiative started in October 2009.
It began after a dozen young people turned up at Berkeley Sports Stadium for a midnight game of basketball.
The organisers of what was then called Midnight Basketball realised they were on to something that made a difference and that soon evolved into Twilight Tournaments which provided a broader range of sports and activities.
Volunteers now include youth workers, students, police and members of the community who give up Saturday nights during school terms to help 60 young people get opportunities they might not otherwise experience.
"We have just completed our 11th tournament," Mr Robinson said. "We run eight weeks every school term and depending on the venue we do different sports. We rely on volunteers and we need a minimum of 26."
Mr Robinson said there were fewer than 10 people involved in the beginning when he was volunteering about 60 hours a week. Now there are 30 to 40 volunteers each Saturday night but he still does about 10 hours a week chasing funding and business support.
"When we started Twilight ... part of the requirement was that we provide a nutritious meal," he said.
"Bec, Darren and I used to do everything. We used to prepare, cook and serve the food and run the whole night.
"We realised that we could not continue to do all that so we got Rotary involved. Now three Rotary clubs support us."
Mr Robinson said the greatest thing about being involved was seeing the impact on the 60 young people every Saturday night.
"Some of the outcomes from this just blow me away," he said.
"We generally have five, sometimes six bus loads. They get picked up in Barrack Heights, Albion Park, Warilla, Dapto, Warrawong and Wollongong."
Mrs Bell said all were aged between 12 and 18 and were collected from designated pick-up points near their homes.
As soon as they arrive at the venue they are fed by Corrimal, Illawarra Sunrise and Wollongong Rotarians before playing at least two games of basketball, hockey and or football.
They are placed in a team and must also take part in a workshop each week before they play.
The workshops are conducted by experts in youth activities and are facilitated by people such as police, dietitians, film-makers, drug and alcohol counsellors.
At the end of each night buses driven by volunteers and donated by community organisations take them home.
The next tournament starts on July 28 at the UOW SportsHub.