Why volunteer? Four insights from Nav-CARE volunteers

Categories: Care, Category, Community Engagement, Featured, and People & Places.

To celebrate National Volunteer Week (April 24-30, 2022), we talked with Nav-CARE (Navigation- Connecting, Advocating, Accessing, Resourcing) volunteers from three hospice palliative care organizations across Canada to learn more about their experiences. We asked them: What advice do you have for prospective volunteers? Each volunteer came up with some advice for those looking at starting a new volunteer role. From their feedback, we put together four questions that volunteers can ask themselves before they get started.

How does this role complement my stage in life?

Volunteers sought roles that aligned with their life stages. For example, Alice took part in volunteer initiatives when she was a new mother. “My volunteering was very focused about everything that had to do with children and families.” Similarly, Natasha brought her kids with her every Friday to deliver Meals on Wheels. Her kids enjoyed ‘playing hooky’ for the day and serving the community. In this way, the volunteers could mix their personal and volunteer interests. Stephen became a Nav-CARE volunteer after he retired, which gave him the gift of time to engage with his community. Louise described an experience where she signed up to make and deliver meals to an older person. She felt “incompetence” and like a “disappointment.” In hindsight, she realized that “the role was the wrong choice at that time of her life.” Considering the ‘why now’ and how the role is complements where you’re at in life helps to maximize the benefits of giving.

Why am I drawn to volunteer now?

While the volunteers’ reasons for joining up were related to their life stage, they also had a deeper connection. In addition to make “meaningful use” of their time or to fulfill a higher purpose, Nav-CARE volunteers were drawn to volunteering as a way to support others as they have been supported. Just as Alice participated in family-oriented volunteering when she started her family, she found her path to palliative care when her husband passed away. She wanted “to give back to that palliative team that made a very difficult situation bearable.” This was her way of saying thank you. Stephen explained, “you want to make valuable use of your time and help other people.” For him, “showing some compassion and being there for others” was a meaningful way to spend his retirement. Considering the “what for?” can help you understand your motivation to volunteer and whether the role may fill that need.

Does this area of volunteering interest me?

While you may seek roles relevant to your life experience, it is helpful to figure out if the tasks interest you. Alice suggested that volunteering is one of the few areas where you get to “choose the things that you love that you want to do.”  She finds her palliative care and art-related volunteer roles highly rewarding. Stephen served others his whole life, first as a teacher, next as a paramedic. For him, serving people was a meaningful and interesting way to spend his time. “Volunteering is about your expertise, your knowledge or your background and your love, your interest.”

How much time and energy can I commit?

Volunteers are hugely important to the people they serve. For this reason, Natasha emphasized how essential it is to consider the impact of the decision to volunteer. She described an experience where she was on vacation and called her client before she returned: “the client said ‘thank goodness I was afraid! You’re not going to decide to move there are you?’” This experience made her realize “you do have to be ready for commitment and you don’t know how much someone’s lost and how much they’ve learned to not trust in their life.” It is worthwhile for you to consider how willing and able you are to commit to a new role.

Volunteering has many rewards. Finding your fit will maximize the meaningfulness of your experience as well as the level of service you can give to your clients. “If you feel nourished you’re going to be able to spread that happiness and that passion to others.”

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