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Volunteering – A Canadian Way Of Life

Volunteering is a big part of Canadian life. Many Canadians are generous when it comes to helping others. Every year, 12.5 million volunteers give their time, energy and skills to make our communities better.

According to Volunteer Canada, much of what Canadians take for granted is delivered to us by volunteers. The work of volunteers is essential to our communities and to our social fabric.

Canada’s Volunteer Crunch

Over twelve million volunteers in Canada is a lot, but a small percentage of Canadians are carrying most of the load, and most of them are already in their seventies. As they step down and become fewer in number, a whole new generation of volunteers needs to fill their places -in new and varied ways.

Why Volunteer?

Benefits to the Community – and You

  • Volunteering builds your community
    Volunteering encourages interaction between people living in a community and strengthens community connections.

When you volunteer, you are actually improving the life of your own community, and creating social capital at the same time. Social capital is a kind of currency for healthy living and grows when people in the community are involved in civic activities and earn the trust and cooperation of others. The more social capital there is, the healthier and more vibrant your community.

  • Boost your own health
    Feeling connected to community can also play a key role in how healthy you feel. According to researchers from Harvard University, volunteering is a reflection of social connectedness, which is strongly associated with the health of the people in that community.

Results from the Canadian Community Health Survey, which takes a close look at how connected Canadians feel from coast to coast, show that two-thirds (64%) have a strong sense of community belonging. Of this group, two-thirds also feel that their health is excellent or very good.

  • Reduce your stress
    According to Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, known for his work on the relaxation response (the body’s ability to shift into a deep state of rest), the health benefits of doing good things for others are similar to those experienced by anyone who practices yoga, spirituality and meditation, namely a slowing down of heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure.The key may lie in the sense of calmness that comes from helping others, also known as the helper’s high. These altruistic feelings reinforce the sense that one’s life has a purpose. In turn, this enhances self-esteem, which then provides the motivation for a person to make better lifestyle choices.
  • Find new purpose
    As we grow older, volunteering appears to give new meaning to life, reducing anxiety and depression and increasing life satisfaction.Indeed, a University of Michigan Study of 423 older couples found that people who make a contribution to the lives of others may help to extend their own lives.

Benefits beyond your health

  • In 2000, the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating found that people were able to describe the benefits they gained from volunteering:
    • 79% of volunteers said that their volunteer activities helped them with their interpersonal skills, such as understanding people better, motivating others and dealing with difficult situations;
    • 68% of volunteers said that volunteering helped them develop better communication skills;
    • 63% reported increased knowledge about issues related to their volunteering.

Design A Schedule That Works

Short term (episodic) or a regular commitment?
Volunteering doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Between work, children, aging parents, homes, hobbies, friends, appointments, and other commitments, you may not think you have much time left over. But your involvement can be as much-or as little time as you have.

You can volunteer sporadically, to help out at a special event, or on an on-going basis, for one day a week or a few days a year.

If you go away on holidays, your volunteer work can be put on hold or shared with another volunteer.

Front line help or behind-the-scenes support?
You can join your local community clean-up or lead the development the funding proposal.

Volunteering from home or out in the community?
Virtual volunteering can be done from home through Internet sites that link volunteers with recipients. You could connect to kids who need homework help or people who need a life coach.

Whatever you choose, be realistic about your commitment
Organizations can accommodate your interests and your time frame, no matter how little or how much you can do– but they do need you to show up when you say you will. The people they serve count on you.

Who Are Canada’s Baby Boomers?

Canada’s baby boomers are members of a diverse group born between 1946 and 1964. Some still cope with teenagers at home, others pay university tuition fees, some care for aging parents while still others enjoy their grandchildren. Some baby boomers work full-time, some part-time, while others contemplate retirement or are already retired. Their interests and aspirations are as diverse as they are. They are always looking for new experiences, challenges and how to make a difference. Baby boomers want to stay active in mind and body, make connections and continue to learn.

Because of their sheer numbers, baby boomers influence and redefine every stage of their lives. Volunteering will be no different.

Volunteering – Your Way

Whatever your interests may be, you can make a valuable contribution as a volunteer, in lots of different ways.

Four Main Reasons to Volunteer

  1. Make a contribution to society.
  2. Share your skills.
  3. Support a cause.
  4. Do something meaningful with your friends and colleagues.

One of these reasons probably makes sense for you. You may already be working as a volunteer or are thinking about what you might want to do next. Whatever your reason, there are many different opportunities out there-and organizations that need your help.

Finding the right volunteer opportunity can be like finding the right job fit–and it can change, just like a job can.

Does this sound like you?

You know what matters to you and where you want to contribute

Do you? You could…
Have experience in marketing? Help an organization plan their public relations campaign.
Drive a bus? Renew that license and take a hockey team to a tournament.
Know how to fundraise? Help an organization apply for grants or tap into corporate donors.
Have financial or IT expertise? Join a board of directors or design a website.
Like to be outdoors? Walk a dog at your local Humane Society.

You aren’t sure how you want to contribute and might want to try something new

You might want to think about ways to:
Connect to a cause that matters to you.
Respond to a need in your community.
Make an inventory of your skills and experience and match them to opportunities.
Join your friends and family on their favorite projects, or bring a friend to one of yours.

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