Kanata-Carleton Community Volunteer Initiative

Published on July 08, 2019

It’s our community! Get out and get involved for a healthier, happier you and a better, stronger community. 

As a physician, as a mother, and as a person who has volunteered throughout my life, I know how important the act of volunteering is to one’s health and well-being. We are social by nature. So, to volunteer leads to a healthier and happier individual by making those meaningful social connections to others.

Volunteering is also integral to a community’s health. It develops social networks of people and fosters friendships and a greater understanding of each other. It also provides essential programs and services that can help bond groups of people and neighbourhoods. In this way volunteerism strengthens the community.    

Many Canadians volunteer. In its 2018 study The Value of Volunteering in Canada, the  Conference Board of Canada found that 44 per cent of Canadians volunteer an average of 156 hours a year. (1)  The Board quantified Canadians’ volunteering as $56 billion worth of economic activity in 2017. Together with non-profit activities, the economic contribution to our country was nearly $87 billion. But the Board quickly makes the point in their report that the benefits of volunteering spread well beyond the value of this economic contribution to our society.

For me, it is the additional benefits of volunteering that I am most interested in and wish to promote. As a young person growing up in Kanata, I experienced the fun and friendships of being involved in community activities. I spent a lot of time at the stables and library, and later as a life guard and instructor at the Kanata pools. With my chosen career path, I have volunteered for health committees and health-related activities in our City. My children have been involved in groups and activities, and my husband and I look for meaningful ways to contribute to local causes. I am blessed to be part of this wonderful Kanata-Carleton community and try to give back where I can. 

“You make a living by what you get.

You make a life by what you give.”

~ Winston Churchill

It is this sense of giving back that provided the impetus for the Kanata-Carleton Community Volunteer Initiative. My objective is to raise the level of awareness of the benefits that volunteering offers individuals. I hope to encourage greater volunteer engagement in our community and provide information to get residents involved with volunteer activities that interest them.

The Kanata-Carleton Community Volunteer Initiative paper provides information on the key benefits of volunteering. By being more active, you will be healthier in body and spirit. By getting out you feel more connected, less isolated and attain a more positive frame of mind. By working with others on a common cause, you find greater happiness in your daily activities. By being active in community events and groups, you help build a stronger, caring community.

This initiative also presents a challenge for Kanata-Carleton residents. Our community is a tremendous place to live, work and raise a family, in part, because of the number of residents involved in volunteer efforts. I hope to prompt further discussion and encourage more participation in our community and I look forward to engaging residents of Kanata-Carleton in the spirit of volunteerism.     

Sincerely,

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, MPP

 

The Many Positives of Volunteering in Kanata-Carleton

 

Do you want to lead a healthier life? Volunteer!

As a family physician, I always encouraged my patients to stay active both physically and mentally. I believe that to volunteer is to lead a healthy life. Giving your time to others through volunteer work will not only help your mental health, but evidence suggests that those who volunteer may also be rewarded with better physical health – including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.

There are many medical studies that links a person’s health and volunteer activities. For example, a study done by Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. (2) This study found that 200 hours of volunteering per year correlated to lower blood pressure. Other studies have found health benefits from as little as 100 hours of volunteering a year. If you or someone you know experiences high blood pressure, I encourage you to find a volunteer group and give a couple hours of your time each week.

People tend to have a more positive approach to their health when they are active volunteering. UnitedHealthCare in the U.S. conducted a study of volunteers in which they found: 75% American adults feel physically healthier; 93% report an improved mood; and, 79% report lower stress  levels. (3)

“There is no better exercise for your heart than

reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” 

~ Bernard Meltzer

Consider this: Volunteering may help you live longer

An analysis of data from Mayo Clinic Health System’s Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain. (4)

A 2013 prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults for that, in the United States, volunteer rates are lowest among those over 65. However, American studies have shown that older volunteers have decreased mortality rates compared to non-volunteers. That means that there’s a correlation between volunteering and living longer. It’s a win-win! (5)

Do you want to feel less isolated and part of something? Volunteer!

Allan Luks, American author and recognized expert on volunteerism, coined the phrase: “the help’s high.” This high is the sense of euphoria that can be experienced after helping someone else – and remarkably, the high is multiplied when your effort has been for a person you do not know. Luks’ research suggests something that we all have realized in our lives: helping others gives you a more positive outlook and puts you in a better frame of mind.   

In today’s world our waking hours are dominated by our smart phones, computers and social media and, even though we may be the most connected people in the world, the feeling of isolation is prevalent. This feeling can become overbearing and could lead to various forms of mental illness. Helping in your community gets you away from screens and engaged with others. Your interactions can provide greater self-awareness of your place in your community.  

Many people in our community have had life transitions like retirement, losing a spouse, or children moving out. With these life events, personal relationships that people once had are suddenly gone. Through volunteering, new relationships can be established, which can boost self-esteem and lead to happiness.

Volunteering also provides a greater sense of purpose. In a 2019 Canadian report Living a Life of Purpose it was found that 89% of Canadian seniors believe they can play a significant role in working towards solutions to the issues affecting the world. (6)  The report also finds 87% agree they are hopeful that future generations will make the world a better place. I encourage you to read more about the tremendous contributions of our seniors in their community @ https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/living-a-life-of-purpose-new-research-shows-canadian-seniors-volunteer-more-time-and-money-than-any-other-age-group-854296513.html

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself

in the service of others.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Consider this: Volunteering can help with mental health

Studies from the Mayo Clinic have shown that people who volunteer just 1-2 hours a week have lower levels of depression. Your social interaction increases when you volunteer and helps to build a support system based on common interests. (7)

Princeton University Dr. Barbara Edwards has written prolifically on the physical and mental health impacts of volunteerism. Dr. Edwards observes, “Volunteering with others who all work toward the same goal increases social interaction, thus diminishing the lonely feeling that so many face from living along — especially in old age. Surrounding yourself with people who share the same interests can help you build a support system, and having a strong support system has been shown to decrease depression, despite vulnerability as a result of genetic and environmental factors.” (8)

Do you want to be happier and have a better quality of life? Volunteer!

People volunteer for many different reasons. Whatever the reason may be, by giving your time you are helping build a better community. When you volunteer, your well-being and everyone involved with your efforts are positively impacted. Yours and your neighbour’s life are enriched.

Volunteering is one of the easiest ways to expand your social network – make new friends and strengthen existing relationships. Volunteering is a great way to meet people who share common interests. By volunteering you also have an opportunity to make new business contacts that could lead to possible employment. You may also get an opportunity to try something different and discover hidden talents. However, the most rewarding part of expanding your network is the chance of fostering new friendships.

Doing volunteer work can have a positive effect on your work-life balance and your daily routine. Volunteer activities that you find meaningful can be energizing and help refresh your thoughts. Your volunteer efforts may be a source of inspiration and creativity that will motivate you in unforeseen ways in your personal and professional life.

Your quality of life often depends on the people and environment around you. It stands to reason if you are contributing in a positive way to both, you are taking important steps to improving your quality of life. The act of volunteering can be your catalyst.

 “Remember that the happiest people are not those

getting more, but those giving more.” 

~ H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Consider this: Volunteering can lead to greater happiness

A Harvard Health paper reported that volunteers benefit from something they call the “happiness effect.” (9)  It found that volunteering makes you happy. By measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. In other words, human beings are hard-wired to give to others -- the more we give, the happier we feel. The paper found that weekly volunteering leads to “happiness levels comparable to a life-changing salary boost.”

An American research paper Do well by doing good examines whether engaging in voluntary work leads to greater well-being, as measured by self-reported health and happiness. (10)  Findings suggest that “people who volunteer report better health and greater happiness than people who do not…. We propose that volunteering might contribute to happiness levels by increasing empathic emotions, shifting aspirations and by moving the salient reference group in subjective evaluations of relative positions from the relatively better-off to the relatively worse-off.”

Do you want to feel part of your community? Volunteer!

Volunteering is an essential part of a strong community. By getting involved in your community it becomes a better place to live and work. Just think of how our community would improve if everyone got involved. More people would know one another. The elderly would be supported. Youth would be active in community events. Neighbourhoods would be more socially connected.  

Your volunteer interests can help improve your community. If you feel strongly about something that is happening (or not happening), I encourage you to get involved – and make a difference. Do you have skills or hobbies that a non-profit could use? Do you enjoy working with children or the elderly? Do you feel that you could make your neighbourhood a more welcoming place to live? We all realize there are not enough paid services to meet the many needs of our community. There are many volunteer opportunities to fill the gaps -- and there is no time like the present to get involved.

“Our generation has the ability and the responsibility to make our ever-more connected world

a more hopeful, stable and peaceful place.” 

~ Natalie Portman

Consider this: Volunteering can improve your skills

Although most volunteers get involved with a charitable or non-profit organization for altruistic reasons, most also believe that they receive substantial benefits themselves according to a Statistics Canada report Volunteering in Canada. (11)  In this report many stated that their volunteer activities had given them a chance to develop new skills. For example, about two-thirds (64%) said their interpersonal skills had improved. Volunteers also thought their volunteer experience had given them better skills in communications (44%), organizing (39%), fundraising (33%) and technical or office work (27%).

In The Value of Volunteering in Canada, the Conference Board of Canada reports: “Firms in Canada and elsewhere are increasingly encouraging their employees to engage in volunteering to help address social issues and needs in the community. Volunteering often augments the skill sets and experience of volunteers, helping their own labour market success and the business success of their employers. And after helping others, volunteers often feel better about themselves, which can improve their own life satisfaction and possibly their health.” (12)

 

Volunteering in Our Kanata-Carleton Community

I hope and trust the information in this paper has provided a better idea of the benefits of volunteering. Perhaps the greatest benefit is the sense of satisfaction one gets in knowing “you are doing something good.”  

There are many ways to get involved in our community -- neighborhood organizations, arts and historic groups, sports organizations, professional associations, and social service organizations, to name a few. These volunteer organizations provide an invaluable service to our community – and to those who get involved. Their services strengthen communities and provide rewarding, memorable life experiences for everyone.

Commit. Volunteer.

With the many personal and community benefits of volunteering, here is the challenge I would like to present to the residents of Kanata-Carleton. Consider what volunteer group or local effort you wish to contribute to in the next year. Commit. Volunteer. When you do, I want to hear your story. Contact me so that we can share the experiences. I believe that, together, we can build a sense of momentum for good things to occur in our community.

In the up-coming years, I will commit to helping to achieve greater rates of volunteerism in our community.

1) My Community Office will serve residents as a community resource. Connect with us and we will make the connection to a volunteer group that you are interested in.

2) As your Kanata-Carleton MPP, I will profile volunteer groups in our community. I plan to promote a new community group or cause every week through social media and with the MPP website.  

3) I will create opportunities to encourage greater volunteerism -- to promote the many positive elements of volunteerism, particularly with our young citizens and our seniors.     

A volunteer effort starts with a commitment to yourself. Please make that commitment – for yourself and for all the good that will result in our Kanata-Carleton community.

 

Endnotes

(1) Conference Board of Canada’s report, The Value of Volunteering in Canada @

https://volunteer.ca/vdemo/Campaigns_DOCS/Value%20of%20Volunteering%20in%20Canada%20Conf%20Board%20Final%20Report%20EN.pdf

(2) Carnegie Mellon University study information @

https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2013/june/june13_volunteeringhypertension.html

(3)  A 2017 UnitedHealthCare report, Doing Good is Good for You Study via link @

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170914005272/en/UnitedHealthcare-Study-Finds-Americans-Volunteer-Feel-Healthier

(4) Mayo Clinic Health System’s Longitudinal Study of Aging @

https://mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/helping-people-changing-lives-the-6-health-benefits-of-volunteering

(5) A 2013 prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults by Sneed, R.S. & Cohen, S. in Psychology and Aging, 28(2), 578-586 @ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12936029_Volunteering_and_Mortality_Among_Older_Adults_Findings_From_a_National_Sample

(6) A 2019 Canadian report Living a Life of Purpose via link @

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/living-a-life-of-purpose-new-research-shows-canadian-seniors-volunteer-more-time-and-money-than-any-other-age-group-854296513.html

(7) - Mayo Clinic Health System @

https://mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/helping-people-changing-lives-the-6-health-benefits-of-volunteering

(8) Dr. Barbara Edwards, How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental & Physical Health @

https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-volunteering-can-help-your-mental-physical-health/

(9) A Harvard Health paper found on HelpGuide.org @

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm

(10) An American research paper Do well by doing good via link @

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953608000373

(11) Statistics Canada report Volunteering in Canada @

https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-008-x/2012001/article/11638-eng.htm

(12) Conference Board of Canada’s report, The Value of Volunteering in Canada @

https://volunteer.ca/vdemo/Campaigns_DOCS/Value%20of%20Volunteering%20in%20Canada%20Conf%20Board%20Final%20Report%20EN.pdf