International Volunteer Day was celebrated Dec. 5, offering an opportunity to recognize the army of volunteers which provides so much important service.
According to the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, more than 13 million Canadians devote more than two billion hours annually to volunteering. In doing so, they help out in areas ranging from health care to sports, working with everyone from children to youths to seniors. Much of this work done by volunteers simply wouldn’t be possible without their willingness to lend a hand. In 2010, Canadians’ 2.1 billion hours of volunteer time was the equivalent of almost 1.1 million full-time jobs.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his Volunteer Day message, noted that volunteerism is “a two-way street,” explaining that while volunteers bring about positive change for others, they often find their own lives transformed by the act of volunteering.
Volunteers come from all age groups. Statistics Canada figures indicate that senior citizens, for example, volunteer an average of 223 hours each year, more than any other age group. The Volunteer Canada website points out that volunteering can play an important part in healthy aging. “Studies have found that older adults who volunteer have reduced stress-related illnesses and higher self-esteem and are less likely to feel isolated,” says the website.
Young people can also benefit from volunteering. It allows them to develop skills and confidence that can pay huge dividends later in their working life.
Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to the millions of young volunteers around the world who “are acting globally for social change.”
“When young people volunteer, the opportunity provides them with valuable life and job skills; it strengthens their capacity to lead and become engaged in their communities and global society,” he added in his message.
Chances are that people who begin volunteering when they’re young will still be contributing to their communities in that way when they’re older. The bigger the volunteer base, the less likely it is that we’ll burn out our volunteers by placing too big a burden on them. People are more likely to continue to volunteer when they do it from the heart rather than from a feeling of obligation or being pressured into doing it. Society will be better able to sustain a dedicated volunteer base when it shows appreciation to volunteers and doesn’t ask more of them than they’re able to give.
We need our volunteers and it’s important that we recognize their important contributions — and say thanks.