Giving to others makes you healthier and happier and the benefits of volunteering range from combating stress and depression to improved mobility and greater longevity.  Studies have shown that those who volunteer are at lower risk for heart disease, memory loss and chronic pain.

In a paper  published by Harvard Health, authors noted that volunteers benefit from something they call the “happiness effect.” It turns out that weekly volunteering leads to happiness levels comparable to a life-changing salary boost. There are also cognitive health benefits offering the opportunity to learn new skills or knowledge. One of the greatest benefits to volunteering is the prevention of social isolation and loneliness.

Although baby boomers and seniors volunteer over one billion hours per year according to the latest Statistics Canada report, there are barriers that deter many older adults from volunteering their time.  After working most of their lives, many boomers don’t want to go back to a life that requires long hours or a daily commitment … and who can blame them!  I recently discovered two unique solutions to this dilemma.

Meet Christine Franklin. Christine is a federal public servant and active volunteer in the community. During her conversations with older adults, she discovered that many were reluctant to take on a regular volunteer commitment but would welcome informal, “one-off” volunteer opportunities that valued their time and experience.  Unfortunately, short-term, skill-based volunteer opportunities can be difficult to find.

Christine Franklin of Impact Hours

She also recognized that non-profits, with limited resources and gaps to fill, could benefit from donated skills and experience of adults over 55 to help with specific needs in support of their core missions, or perhaps to assist with a question in such areas as technology, marketing, or fundraising.

E viola! Impact Hours was born!  ImpactHours.org is Christine’s passion project … a new website that connects individuals aged 55 and over with Ottawa non-profits for short-term, skill-based volunteer opportunities.

Spotlighted by the Council on Aging as an “innovative age-friendly initiative” and recently featured on CBC Ottawa Morning, Impact Hours provides seniors with access to an inventory of volunteer opportunities posted by non-profits in need of their skill-sets and experience.  Magnificent work Christine!

The statistics show that many older Canadians choose to volunteer in health care and with our overburdened system, volunteers are becoming essential components to health care delivery.  Meet Karen Lemaire, Director of Therapeutic Support Services at Bruyere Continuing Care.  Together with her team, their Volunteer Unit Model has recently been recognized as a Leading Practice by Accreditation Canada’s Health Standards Organization.  This innovative model is intended to integrate volunteers more effectively into the interdisciplinary team on the long-term care and complex care units and maximize their usefulness, engagement and impact on the patient’s, residents and family’s experiences.

Karen Lemaire accepts Innovative Leading Practice designation by HSO

Volunteers are assigned a very manageable 3-hour shift, during which they are available to support staff, patients, residents and families in various capacities.  Traditionally in health care, the role of a volunteer is narrowly defined and often limited; as a result, volunteers are seen as separate from the health care team. Not so with this new model.  Volunteers often have a unique perspective on patients’ needs and can provide the health care team with valuable information allowing for a care plan that takes into consideration the individual.  This holistic model addresses not only the physical needs, but also the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the patient.

Volunteer Week 2018 Awards at Bruyere St. Vincent

In a survey conducted by Bruyere, 93% of volunteers expressed satisfaction with their volunteer experience and the 3 hour shift makes it suitable for older adults.  As Karen Lemaire put’s it … get out of the shopping mall and into Bruyere!  In fact, Bruyere encourages friends to volunteer together to make it a social event.  One of my favourite volunteer activities at Bruyere is Cycling Without Age , the brainchild of  Ole Kassow from Copenhagen and implemented here by Cycling Without Age Ottawa.

Cycling Without Age at Bruyere (photo Ottawa Citizen)

On September 12, Bruyere Continuing Care will host the Reclaiming our Humanity event that invites everyone to learn more about the benefits of volunteering.   This is a free event and everyone is welcome.  You will hear Dr. Frank Knoefel speak about the benefits of volunteering; Bill Dawson, ex-construction worker, talk about his life changing experiences as a volunteer; learn about the care system in Japan with special guests from Satoko Okamoto; visit the engaging information booths.  Light refreshments will be served.

When: Sept. 12, 2018, 1-4 pm  Where: Gilberte Paquette Garden, Elizabeth Bruyere Hospital  For more info email volunteer@bruyere.org

In the meantime … watch what Bruyere Volunteers have to say about their experiences.  Very inspiring stuff!