Research on older adult volunteers at centre of Tuesday webinar

Give something, get more back. It’s a sentiment felt by many volunteers, who form the lifeblood of a community, says a Brock University research team.

“Some parts of communities would shut down without volunteers,” says Associate Professor of Health Sciences Pauli Gardner. “Many organizations’ events and activities happen on the backbone of volunteers, and sometimes we don’t even know that people are volunteering.”

Associate Professor of Health Sciences Miya Narushima says volunteers see an increase in their own well-being from the efforts and energy they invest.

“Even people with physical health conditions can get the rewards of life satisfaction and a boost in self-esteem,” she says. “Previous research shows that people who are highly vulnerable benefit the most.”

Five women (three standing, two squatting) on both sides of a pop-up banner titled “Lake Huron,” with the woman on the top left pointing at the banner.

A Brock research team partnering with the Age-friendly Niagara Network will share stories from older adult volunteers about how volunteering improves health and well-being for themselves and their communities. Clockwise from left to right: Associate Professor of Health Sciences Miya Narushima, Research Assistant Majuriha Gnanendran, Research Assistant Jaclyn Ryder, Research Assistant Mei Low and Associate Professor of Health Sciences Pauli Gardner. Absent from the photo is Professor of Nursing Lynn McCleary.

Narushima and Gardner will be among Brock researchers presenting the team’s findings in the online webinar “Who volunteers these days anyway? Lessons learned from lifelong volunteers in the Age-friendly Niagara movement.”

Held Tuesday, June 21 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., the webinar will share stories from older adult volunteers about how volunteering improves health and well-being for themselves and their communities. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Narushima’s team formed a research partnership with the Age-Friendly Niagara Network (AFNN) to study the experiences of AFNN’s older adult volunteers, as well as their challenges and suggestions for supporting their efforts. The team worked closely with the AFNN advisory group throughout the project.

The aim of the research, funded by the federal government’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), is to enable AFNN to devise strategies that would sustain current volunteers and motivate others to join their volunteer network.

The first step in the team’s research was to hold consultations with AFNN members and affiliates to answer a key question: What approaches are needed to sustain current age-friendly volunteers while motivating more people to join?

As part of that discussion, the volunteers shared the benefits of their work for themselves and their community groups as well as their motivations for volunteering.

Retirees are the most common types of AFNN volunteers. They are willing to contribute their skills, strengths, knowledge and leadership they built up throughout their life, or they may want to try something new, says Narushima.

Many people volunteer to form social bonds with others and to create a sense of purpose and meaning, says Gardner.

Then, there are those volunteers who are “trailblazers,” those who have been volunteering since a young age, with many having parents who also volunteered, says Research Assistant Majuriha Gnanendran.

“These are the people who start or lead committees in their communities; they motivate other people to volunteer,” says Gnanendran, who will be starting a master’s in Community Health in this fall.

Another group of volunteers are those who want to expand themselves, learning new skills, encountering new experiences and meeting new people in the process, says Research Assistant Jaclyn Ryder.

“Many volunteers have reported being physically active, socializing more and with that, great levels of happiness,” says Ryder, who is in the second year of a master’s program in Community Health.

Ryder, Gnanendran, Gardner and Narushima will attend the June 21 webinar. Other members of the Brock research team include Professor of Nursing Lynn McCleary and Research Assistant Mei Low (BPH ’19), who will start a bachelor’s program in education in the fall.

The team also produced a video, “Sowing the seeds of change: Trailblazers of the Age-Friendly Niagara Movement,” which explains AFNN’s roots and activities.

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