The spotlight was on Canada’s army of unsung heroes last week during National Volunteer Week.
According to Statistics Canada figures, approximately 13 million Canadians are involved in volunteering each year, contributing close to two billion hours of their time (as of 2013 numbers). That’s an astounding contribution, one which would leave an enormous and devastating void if those volunteer efforts did not exist.
Volunteers cover the full spectrum of age demographics. The 2013 statistics reported that youth in the 15-19 age category volunteered an average of 110 hours per year, while at the other end, those in the 55-plus category devoted the most time, accounting for 39 per cent of volunteer hours. Overall, Canadians volunteer an average of 154 hours per year through non-profit organizations, charities and public institutions. They serve in everything from youth organizations to service clubs, at food banks, schools and seniors centres.
These are crucial contributions. Without volunteers, many organizations and programs would not be able to operate, and the good work these organizations and programs do in our communities wouldn’t happen. Our communities, and the people within them, would be worse off.
Volunteering has broader benefits to society as well. In a 2011 report called “Social impacts of volunteerism,” Huiting Wu of the Points of Light Institute noted: “Voluntary organizations are key players in the economy in their own right as employers and service providers, adding to the overall economic output of a country and reducing the burden on government spending. The sector also plays a key role of creating the conditions where the economy can flourish by investing in people through training, boosting skills and improving the employability of people on the margins of the labour market.”
The author adds: “Volunteer activities bring together people who might not otherwise have contact with one another. The social fabric can only be strengthened by practices that bridge our socioeconomic divides.”
Volunteering has been shown to be beneficial to the volunteers, too. The Volunteer Canada website says, “Volunteering can play a vital role in healthy aging. Remaining active and staying connected to the community can have a tremendous positive impact on a person’s social, physical and emotional well-being. Studies have found that older adults who volunteer have reduced stress-related illnesses and higher self-esteem and are less likely to feel isolated.”
Volunteers are a vital cog in the machinery on which our society runs. Without their efforts, our communities wouldn’t be the same, and they’re owed a huge debt of gratitude for what they do.