Untapped Potential

Volunteering is a great way for seniors and those living with disability to give back whilst making new connections. So, what’s stopping more of us from signing up?

The act

Those involved in the act of volunteering – which peak organisations describe as time given for the common good and without financial gain – represents one of the primary mechanisms for moving seniors and people with disability from being passive recipients of service to one that is socially responsive.

Volunteering also plays a significant role as a pathway to gainful employment, encouraging economic participation and building work skills. This is significant given older people, or people with disability, face multiple barriers, such as discrimination, and are often excluded from the labour market.

The numbers

Volunteering Australia (VA) says more than 5.8 million Australians engage in volunteering activities. This yields a 450 per cent return for every $1 invested.

According to the most recent ABS statistics, one in three adults with a disability or long-term potential health condition work without payment. A slightly higher proportion of those over 65 years of age volunteer their time, accounting for 17 per cent of all volunteers.

The barriers

Recently, VA commissioned analysis of the experience of volunteers during COVID-19. The research revealed that the decline in volunteering during the pandemic has been substantial, with nearly two thirds (65.9 per cent) of volunteers estimated to have stopped volunteering between February and April, 2020.

But it’s not just COVID-19 that has stopped more Australian seniors or those living with disability from working voluntarily. The stigma attached to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities means that often they are not afforded as many opportunities to volunteer in the community as they would like.

The bright side

The good news is that, as part of the recent VA study, research found that volunteering helped protect mental health in many ways.

They discovered that those who were able to continue volunteering during COVID-19 had better life satisfaction and psychological stress outcomes than those who had to stop or who had never volunteered in the first place. The data also showed that those who continued volunteering experienced less loneliness.

The way forward

Global health pandemics aside, organisations with an interest in getting more seniors and those living with disability into volunteer positions say new opportunities are emerging all the time.

Inclusion Melbourne, which has developed a publication called Include Me! says the types of internships, work experience positions and volunteer roles traditionally undertaken include everything from planning events or fundraising and stocktake to gardening and offering guided tours.

Virtual volunteering is also gaining traction as a way for seniors, or those living with disability to lend a hand. Tasks include creating and or maintaining websites for an organisation, performing online research, providing technical assistance to staff and clients, and helping with online marketing and communications.

Submitted by Susanne Jones, Just Better Care Brisbane North and CBD

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