People living with declining health often have unmet needs and experience social isolation resulting in poor quality of life – and many of these people make life-changing decisions to accommodate new life realities. Getting around the community can become intensely challenging, and many do not know which services are available to assist them and these factors influence how people manage their health. Nav-CARE (Navigation: Connecting, Advocating, Resourcing, Engaging) volunteer navigators can help with these needs, supporting people with declining health to live as well and independently at home for as long as possible.
April 24 – 30th, 2022 is National Volunteer Week in Canada, and to celebrate the remarkable work and dedication of volunteers, we talked with Nav-CARE volunteers from three hospice palliative care organizations in Canada to hear their stories and understand their “why”. Please note, all names are pseudonyms.
We frequently hear that volunteering is an experience grounded in mutuality and reciprocity. Volunteers feel that what they give is returned tenfold. “If you’re being compassionate and helping others, it’s almost a selfish thing because you get the biggest reward back in return” explains Alice. Echoing this sentiment, Natasha notes “whenever you give, you always get.” Volunteers receive something beneficial – but what exactly are these volunteers receiving?
Connection is one of the pillars of volunteerism and Nav-CARE volunteers voice that they find important social and emotional connections within the volunteer organization and with their clients. Alice talks about how she was “greeted into community” when she joined her volunteer organization. Here she was welcomed and offered a variety of ways in which she could contribute. Importantly, the connections that are developed are a “two-way street”. As Stephen explains, he receives companionship and connection through volunteering through actively engaging with his client’s stories. Volunteers are deeply grateful for the reciprocity inherent in these connections. Alice explains that her feeling of reciprocity was influenced by “exposure to amazing people and experiences,” many of whom were living in difficult circumstances. Connections facilitate a deeper understanding of another’s situation. Natasha found gratitude for her situation by understanding other people’s challenges.
Volunteers also derive significant personal benefits from the different learning opportunities that arise from supporting clients and from the training offered by their hospice palliative care organization. Stephen shares his insight into his personal growth, which was facilitated by volunteering: “I have learned that I don’t always have to be the center of attention, that I can be there, someone else can be the focus of what I’m doing.” Natasha expresses a similar sentiment: “I was very appreciated for what I could give to clients, and I loved what I learned from them.” She also outlines that the wisdom gained through volunteering pays dividends, as volunteers can share the experience that they’ve “acquired over the years” with others. Alice explains that she “still can apply” the “learning she got from volunteering years ago.” Volunteering can help people gain valuable knowledge and skills which can be used in other work, volunteer, and personal settings. For example, Nav-CARE volunteers receive free training in communication and resource finding which are transferable skills. Overall, the volunteers articulate that personal growth and experiential learning were rewards for their time and expertise given.
Volunteers benefit from their volunteer work. This benefit can be in the form of connection, enhanced gratitude for one’s situation, learning new things, and sharing wisdom. With these experiences, it is no surprise that Nav-CARE volunteers describe their role as “fulfilling,” “joyful,” “meaningful,” and a “meeting of hearts.” For their dedication, compassion, expertise, and willingness to be a companion on clients’ and their families’ journey, we express our heartfelt thanks.