The Value of One. The Power of Many.
Manager of Community Support Services, Eastern Counties
If hindsight is 20-20 then Volunteer Canada sure got it right! Who would have predicted that its theme in 2001 would resonate so loudly in 2021? But indeed, it does!
The United Nations declared 2001 the International Year of Volunteers to shine a spotlight on the contributions made by so many who were helping people and shaping their communities through their generosity and acts of kindness. That same year, Volunteer Canada responded with great foresight and leadership in developing the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement (CCVI) to support agencies, like Carefor, that engage volunteers. Now in its third iteration, the CCVI continues to be the guiding document for so many organizations. It recognized the contribution of volunteers that year under the banner theme: “The Value of One. The Power of Many.” Twenty years later and one year into the world-wide pandemic, Volunteer Canada decided that its 2001 theme is just as relevant now as it was then. I could not agree more. We NEED our volunteers! We MISS our volunteers!
In March 2020 when the words “lock down” became very real in our lives, almost everything stopped. Stay-at-home orders were implemented by our local Health Units. The pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities, and folks over 70 years old were advised they were most at risk. This news affected our volunteers as much as our clients. Of the 140 volunteers engaged in meals delivery in the Eastern Counties in March 2020, 100 were over the age of 70. Yet, of the 140 volunteers, 100 opted to stay on to deliver meals because of Carefor’s COVID-safety protocols. This one program reflects the profile of volunteers in so many others. However, because of the congregate nature of so many programs, these were deemed at-risk activities. Though so many volunteers wanted to continue to serve, their programs were halted for health and safety reasons. Suddenly, the contribution of nearly 700 volunteers in Carefor’s Eastern Counties programs was impacted by age and COVID-19 circumstances. Volunteers are a valuable human resource and an asset to protect.
For years, organizations have grappled with the challenge of quantifying the impact of volunteerism. Increasingly, funders and supporters want to know the economic value of volunteering. For many, the way to capture the financial value consists of estimating the time spent by volunteers and multiplying it by an hourly rate. It is a simple calculation and deemed an easy way to financially account for the benefit of donated time and service. However, does a blanket dollar value really represent the full impact of volunteerism? Many would say no. Many would insist that assigning a monetary value to the act of volunteering belittles generosity and kindness. Others would say that the interest, dedication, and passion of volunteers are priceless. Volunteer Canada weighed in on this important topic by drafting a policy statement and concluded that both qualitative AND quantitative measurements “must be considered equally valid and compelling.” The true impact of volunteerism is incomplete when only looking at the economic value.
This is reflected in the CCVI which states that volunteer involvement has a powerful impact on Canadian society, communities, organizations, and individuals. The pandemic experience certainly affirmed this. When the Prime Minister, the Premier of Ontario and the Medical Officers implored people to stay at home, many of our volunteers followed orders. As engaged as they may have been with Carefor, they recognized the importance of stepping down to stay safe. They did their civic duty. Though we miss them terribly, we applaud their resolve, and we cannot wait to welcome them back when it is safe to do so.
When most volunteers are recruited, they tell us of their desire to help and of their need to feel connected to something important. Often, the program of choice is meals delivery because they know they are providing more than just a meal. COVID-19 compounded the issue as Carefor experienced a surge in demand for meals. Food delivery was never more important. Following COVID safe protocols, determined volunteers continue to serve by delivering meals and checking in on clients, many of whom are isolated. As one Carefor employee put it, “The volunteers are a critical lifeline for our seniors.” Carefor’s pandemic experience with the meal delivery program reflects another significant impact noted in the CCVI: volunteer involvement is vital for strong and connected communities.
Volunteer involvement also builds the capacity of organizations. This is true for Carefor. In one fell swoop, Eastern Counties’ human resources dwindled from 700 to a little over 100 volunteers. Most programs were suspended. Centres were closed and occupied only by staff. Hubs of activity became still and silent. As expressed by one Carefor employee, “the Centre feels empty,” and by another, “I miss our building being a hive of activity and hearing all those cheerful voices.” We all look forward to the safe return of skilled volunteers and the resumption of programs that respond to the needs in our communities.
Deemed personal, volunteer involvement, as described in the CCVI, promotes a sense of belonging and general wellbeing. Many volunteers have told us how much they miss their connection to Carefor, the program in which they serve and the clients they support. Though in some programs like Befriending, exercise classes and some Adult Day Programs, the zoom alternative is available, most Carefor employees miss seeing volunteers in person. “I miss hearing the laughs and watching the teamwork that makes our program so much fun,” said one employee.
Finally, the CCVI highlights that volunteering is about building relationships. Most of Carefor’s programs allow volunteers the opportunity to connect and to contribute to building relationships and community. Recalling the dining activities at the Centres, one employee expressed how she missed the smiles and caring concern on the volunteers’ faces; how they would kneel by the clients’ chairs to better hear their stories. “Each volunteer knows exactly which client prefers tea to coffee.” More importantly, each one recognizes the value of relationships and connections.
As Carefor joins in the celebration of National Volunteer Week, it does so by thanking all volunteers for their countless acts of kindness that continue to touch so many lives. Whether six feet apart or on zoom, whether masked or looking through a window, whether on the phone or on the porch, whether doing their civic duty and staying at home or engaging in COVID safe activities – Carefor tips its hat to this very valuable resource – its volunteers.
The Value of One. The Power of Many.