Altruism is not dead. Nor is volunteerism.
The Chilliwack Social Research and Planning Council has been concerned about both matters. In the 2014 Quality of Life research, the findings of which were recently released by the Council, there continues to be a fairly strong commitment to volunteerism. In fact, 45% of respondents reported volunteering in the last year. That number may not capture the myriad of small ways people contribute, but more importantly, the number has not decreased since 2004 when the survey was first instituted. When asked why they volunteer, the most prominent reason was “to improve the community.” That reasoning has stayed the same in the survey in 2004, 2009 and now 2014.
An overall finding from the 2014 survey was that respondents still consider Chilliwack to be a less complicated place to live, retaining some of its pastoral/rural feel, although it is evident this is receding. Volunteering can play a significant role in maintaining and advancing the feeling of living in a less complicated and less stressful environment.
Here’s the logic. Volunteerism is related to a sense of contribution. Contribution is related to a sense of belonging. When we feel that we belong somewhere, we usually are more motivated to care for it and, ultimately, to feel safe. When we feel safe, we experience less stress. There’s no need to be on guard all the time. Volunteering is an opportunity to meet people and build a greater sense of community. There is a phrase coined in community psychology literature that speaks to this: place attachment.
Fostering a sense of place attachment isn’t the responsibility of the welcome wagon, the City or any particular agency. Instead, it’s something we can all build through our volunteerism. Essentially, whether you’re working with Big Brothers, Community Services, your faith community, amateur sports or Ann Davis Transition Services, it’s all for the common good. Volunteering and altruism make us feel like we belong, but they also create a more welcoming and generous social space for everyone.
Former City Councillor and one-time School Administrator Mel Folkman told a story, the gist of which goes like this: As a new principal, he noticed that the school was being vandalized and the likely suspects were older kids, waiting for the bus to the secondary school. Mel wisely made a point to get to school early, and befriend and welcome these older students in. The vandalism stopped. Mel’s going above and beyond to welcome these students obviously had an impact on their sense of place. The school now mattered to them because they had a sense that they mattered to it.
There’s an old adage – “When you volunteer, you can get more than you give.” This concept is living on in a growing body of psychological literature on the value of giving to others. Giving creates biological and psychological changes that improve our state of wellbeing. If you aren’t already volunteering, use your courage to reach out, find a service opportunity in the community, and try it. It may be one of the best things you ever did!
Dr. Robert Lees, R.Psych is the Community Psychologist for the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack.