Canadian seniors volunteer in record numbers

St. Lawrence Place resident Jane Parker and executive director Violette Hiebert. (Supplied Photo)

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When it comes to altruism, Canadian citizens only seem to get better with age.

Research from Revera, a privately owned Canadian seniors accommodation, care and service provider, has proven that Canadian seniors contribute hugely to charity donations and volunteering in the country — and it goes largely unnoticed.

This year’s Revera Report on Aging, themed around “living a life of purpose,” shows that Canadian seniors contribute $10.9 billion annually in economic value through their volunteerism. They also raise more than $4 billion annually.

Violette Hiebert, executive director at St. Lawrence Place, a Revera community included in the study, said that’s “huge.” More than 50 per cent of the seniors at St. Lawrence Place volunteer either through time or donations in areas from health care to education.

“If we just took that away, what would our world look like?” Hiebert asked.

“These are people who have seen so much change throughout their lives. We need to recognize that these people have seen so much more than what we have, and we have to create a space where they can thrive and continue to live their purpose, even in older age.”

For many seniors, maintaining that sense of purpose is critical to their altruism. Eighty-nine per cent of Canadian seniors believe they play a significant role in finding solutions to world issues.

Hazel McCallion, chief elder officer at Revera and former mayor of Mississauga, stresses in the report that “seniors have been the drivers of great change in society,” noting that even if their progress isn’t always straightforward, it results in a “better world.”

Hiebert believes this is the result of their “life experience.” She’s quick to note that senior adults have been experts in economics, public health, the environment and education, among other fields.

“We have a lot to learn from them,” she stressed. “What information can we learn from them about what the world looked like when they were our age? What does life look like for them now?

“Their life isn’t over just because they’ve hit that 65-year mark.”

This mentality is echoed in the numbers. The Revera report shows that nine in 10 senior Canadians say they do something to support the causes important to them, whether donating money or volunteering their time.

Overwhelmingly, seniors give their time and energy to the charities they’re passionate about, volunteering an average of 214 hours annually each — which is significantly above the national average of 154 hours per volunteer.

For St. Lawrence resident Jane Parker, that commitment goes back more than 90 years. Growing up with profoundly deaf parents in Manitoba, Parker has given back to the deaf community through her volunteerism and advocacy. For several years, she sat on the board of education in Kingston after working in schools for deaf children in Winnipeg. She has also adopted several children and, as she grows older, serves her community now through her involvement with the United Church in Kingston.

“The minute I was born, I was with deaf people,” Parker said. That gave her the gratitude of realizing that “not everybody is the same,” and everybody can use a helping hand.

Though she isn’t able to “run around as (she) used to” anymore, she finds use in her years of community involvement to this day. Last week, she was able to offer help through sign language to a deaf woman who was struggling to communicate in a downtown Kingston business.

When asked about her life’s purpose through charity work, Parker said that once in a while she gets “annoyed by it all.” Her husband died years ago, and her whole family remains in Manitoba.

However, through her volunteer work, she’s “grateful to be with people who can share a laugh, who (she) might not have known yesterday.” She’s found a community through her decades of giving back to those around her.

Hiebert sees these results as a call to action. For her, the report’s results should motivate businesses and industries to innovate specifically for older Canadians.

“These are people who have paved the way to make Canada one of the best places in the world to live,” she said.

“It’s their courage and their commitment to live a life of purpose that calls on us to live a life of purpose as well, and give back to them and give back to their communities.”