We’ve all been there. We remember what it was like walking into our first SCA event. We were probably wearing borrowed clothes, or possibly we raided our closet for a costume left over from Halloween. Maybe you went to your first event with friends, or if you were like me, you braved your first event all on your own. Whatever drew you to that first event, I’m willing to bet that day sticks out in your memory. I vividly remember my first event, Meridian Grand Tourney in Meridies, September 2013. Banners were waiving, there was a clash of battle on the fighting field, I saw beautiful clothes, and I found it all fascinating. I went home that night and immediately paid for my membership online. I have been hooked ever since.
But, there was a downside. I didn’t know anyone. I had not arrived with a friend. I was truly just a single woman, fascinated by history, and looking to branch out and build a new social circle. It was hard walking into that event and not knowing a single soul. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. Luckily I met some great people that day who became good friends. Otherwise, I might have been too intimidated to continue on my own. Over the course of the next year I had to work hard to find my niche.
As a newcomer there is an awful lot to adjust to, and it is not always an easy or seamless transition for some people to go from new to seasoned member. I recognized that our Kingdom needed some help in this area. A year after joining the SCA I was determined to start working with newcomers, and have continued to do so.
Over the last six years I have come to recognize that there are still a couple of areas that we as a Kingdom, and actually as a Society, need to work on if we want to retain new people. One of these areas centers around how we include new people. This is an issue that has been raised repeatedly by new people I have met at events. A common question I receive is “How do I go about getting involved?” Along those same lines the person will also typically say “I feel out of place. I don’t know what to do,” or words to that effect. You see, not everyone wants to fight. Not everyone has a creative bent. But I have found that typically the first thing we seasoned members do is point a person towards fighting (heavy or rapier), or we tend to want to shove the person towards a class. And while these are well-meaning gestures, these activities are not for everyone.
When I am talking to a new person I always suggest that in order to really get involved that they volunteer to help at an event. This is what helped me to feel included, eased the way towards starting conversations with new people and making friends, and helped me feel like I was contributing something of value. But we as a Kingdom and a Society have developed a problem with regard to actually accepting volunteers and offers of help. We are turning people away. One new person after another has told me “I keep volunteering but no one will let me. They tell me not to worry about it and ‘go have fun.’” One young lady told me she had been told this repeatedly. She came to events alone, was on the shy side, and much like me thought that if she volunteered to help in the kitchen or with clean-up or other chores that it would give her something to do at an event and help her meet people. But her offer of service had been rebuffed each and every time, and she had been shooed upon her way and told to “just go have fun.” She was losing hope of ever being included, of being able to find her own personal niche.
As one new person after another has told me a similar story, I’ve come to realize that we need to do a better job of helping new people find their footing. We, as a whole, need to realize that not every person’s interest lies in fighting or the arts. And, while many people are content just to attend an event, watch the activities, and socialize with their friends, there are those among us who find that they are most in their element when they are serving others.
A person does not need to be on the path to peerage, does not need to wear a yellow protégé’s belt, in order to be of service to others. I sincerely believe we need to change our focus, and start giving more attention to those who, like the young lady I counseled, want to help, want to serve, want to be useful, even though they may not even know what a peerage is or what it means to be a protégé.
How many times do we hear our members say “I’m burned out.” Or, “We need volunteers, we are short staffed.” Yet, it seems as if we will accept only volunteers who are belted, who are part of a household, or who we want to see get recognition. And we are losing good people because of those attitudes.
It is time that we change our focus and consider how we include those who are newer, who have reached out and have said “What can I do? Can I help?” Start saying “Yes!” Find a job for them in the kitchen, setting up the list field, helping with parking, etc. There are plenty of jobs, and plenty of recognition, to go around. New people have so very much to offer, and it’s time that we started recognizing that and valuing their willingness to serve. Keep in mind that these people who are volunteering are trying to find their place, trying to find their niche. It’s just possible that being assigned a task like sweeping the floor gives that person a sense of accomplishment and contribution, while helping those who are shy or introverted to break the ice.
We want our new people to continue to participate until the day comes when, like us, they are old hands and seasoned members, and are themselves helping the next “generation” of new people enjoy this hobby of ours. To do that we must step back, realize that everyone has different gifts and different talents, and that for some their talents lie in the service of their hands.