NVW 2019 Blog Series: Part 4

This week is National Volunteer Week, and we’re celebrating the #VolunteerFactor – Lifting Communities! One of my favourite things about this week, is the myriad of examples, heartwarming stories and proud testimonials shared from across Canada by volunteers and those impacted by their work. It is striking how all these amazing volunteer stories are so vastly different, and yet so fundamentally the same.

What we, as a society, consider to be volunteering is changing and evolving. Volunteer Canada defines a volunteer as: “Any person who gives freely of their time, energy and skills for public benefit, without monetary compensation”. To better understand what that means to Canadians, we studied a new and evolving concept called Individual Social Responsibility (ISR). ISR encompasses all the choices we make for social good, including formal volunteering through organizational structures, ethical purchasing, donating items or funds, and all our conscious actions to make the world a better place. Everyone’s unique set of values and motivations drive their own brand of ISR. Each community and each person bring volunteering and ISR to life in different ways, depending on their values, their needs and their skills.

For example: #Trashtag. If you haven’t heard of it – it’s an online challenge sparked by Byron Román to encourage “bored teens” to clean up an area in their community. Here’s the post that started it all!

And now, thousands of people (“bored teens” and otherwise) have cleaned up a street, a park, a beach or a shoreline, and posted before and after pictures on social media using the hashtag #trashtag.

Would these people be considered volunteers? Would you consider them to be volunteers?

According to our definition of a volunteer, we think so! They all gave their time and effort for public benefit, without any monetary compensation (likes and retweets don’t count!). Thousands of pounds of litter and garbage have been cleaned out of our environment around the world thanks to this movement. It goes to show, informal volunteering (volunteering not done through a formal organization) can be just as impactful as formal volunteering.

How community shapes the Volunteer Factor

The Volunteer Factor shows up differently in each community and neighbourhood.  Volunteering can even be a dual solution – helping those who volunteer just as much as they help the organizations they volunteer for. Research shows time and again that volunteering is a great tool to promote social inclusion and prevent isolation. That’s why volunteer centres across Canada have programs targeting specific groups of people in their communities who may need some extra support to get engaged in volunteering.

British Columbia faces some of the highest rates of substance abuse in the country, and studies show that social inclusion plays a role in addiction recovery. Volunteer Victoria offers the Volunteer Access program that focuses on inclusion and supports for individuals who face mental health or substance use challenges, promoting social inclusion while also benefiting the organizations they work with.

According to the 2016 census, 23% of the population in the Waterloo region are immigrants. To support them on their integration journey, the Volunteer Action Centre Kitchener Waterloo offers online learning tools to help newcomers build deeper relationships and prepare to work with people from different cultures and experiences with Newcomer Connections.

Not only do volunteers supported by these kinds of programs help to lift their communities, they gain a sense of purpose, develop meaningful relationships and lift their self-esteem. And this remains true for all Canadians who volunteer.

We see it first hand with Igor’s story!
Watch the video to learn all about his inspiring journey as an immigrant who volunteers and leads the charge in his community to reduce food waste and help those in need.

How people shape the Volunteer Factor

The truth is that volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. You’re never too young, or too old, to be an active part of your community!

All of these examples of the volunteer factor are unified by their shared sense of community and the volunteers’ sense of accomplishment, of pride and of having made a difference.

Think about how the volunteer factor is present in your community and ask yourself:

How is the Volunteer Factor unique in my community?

Have I recognized the diversity of volunteers lifting my community?

Are there other ways we can lift our community to new heights using the power of the Volunteer Factor?

It doesn’t matter who you are, your struggles, your age, where you’re from or how you contribute; anyone can be the Volunteer Factor in their community!