National Seniors Council Roundtable on Volunteering Among Seniors and Positive, Active Aging

CARP was invited by the National Seniors Council to participate in a day-long consultation on issues affecting volunteerism as well as positive and active aging in older Canadians. This gathering of national organizations was the culmination of a series of eight country-wide consultations with citizens and community groups over the past year to understand the issues and collect ideas on how to facilitate and sustain volunteering as well as the positive and active aging of the population.

The first part of the day focused on Volunteerism. There was universal appreciation of the importance of volunteerism to a healthy and productive society, which makes it imperative that barriers to volunteerism be addressed. According to the research provided by the Seniors Council, the value of volunteer work in Canada is estimated to be greater than $14 billion annually. The research goes on to point out that in 2007, approximately 12.5 million Canadians volunteered formally (generally through community and non-profit organizations) and contributed over 2.1 billion hours of time, the equivalent of 1.1 million full time employees.

The discussions covered a number of topics. Volunteerism is on a declining trend among older Canadians, although it is worth noting that overall, women aged 65-74 volunteer at a higher rate (56%) than any other age cohort, and men in the same age cohort contribute the greatest average number of hours of service (240) annually.

The “baby boomer” cohort isn’t volunteering to the same degree, or for the same causes or reasons, as the preceding generation. Boomers tend to give more time to education and research organizations, whereas seniors tend to do more with religious organizations, hospitals and service organizations. Boomers also tend to want volunteer opportunities that serve personal needs and interests. These differing motivations and the declining volunteer hours of the older cohort are leading to a gap in services traditionally provided by the seniors.

Other factors are also coming into play. Concerns about the shifting economy, financial security and pension shortfalls are leading both the older cohort and Boomers to seek a return to paid employment, or to stay in the workforce longer are having a negative impact on the number of hours available for volunteer engagement.

In the regional consultations and at the National consultation participants noted the circular relationship between volunteering and positive and active aging. One tends to lead to the other.

The second half of the day focused on the subject of Active and Positive Aging, generally understood to mean to continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and community affairs. It includes anything conducive to making positive and productive social whether that is achieved through paid work, volunteering or caregiving. The consensus is that it is not just being physically active.

It was encouraging to see that CARP has common cause with other national organizations with regards to the spirit of “Zoomerism” and the issues and initiatives that CARP has been supporting—age friendly communities, lifelong learning, inter-generational activities, community engagement, aging in place, accessibility and inclusiveness, getting involved in social issues etc.