“I believe in one thing—that only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” Albert Einstein
From April 7-13, Canadians will be celebrating National Volunteer week to honour volunteerism. Every single day, Manitobans across this great province volunteer their valuable time in the service of others. In fact, according to the last general social survey on giving and volunteering from Statistics Canada, the total annual volunteer hours in Manitoba were an astounding 82.9 million. Giving back has been part of the human experience for generations and is the core of many religions. Narratives on the value of helping others dates back to the philosopher Aristotle and Victorian author and social critic Charles Dickens once said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Research has shown that staying active and connected to the community has many benefits, but the real value of volunteerism to overall health is altruism.
As a group, older adults (55 and over) continue to be an integral part of the volunteering demographic in this country. For older adults who’ve retired, not only does volunteering help fill the void of an 8 hour work day, it also contributes to emotional well-being. Maybe it’s because that ‘helpers high’ people experience when volunteering is actually quite good for you. A recent study in Psychology and Aging found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who didn’t. It also helps manage stress, reduce depression and there is some evidence it may reduce mortality.
Even when factors like medical history, age and socioeconomic status were taken into account, researchers found a strong relationship between volunteering and a reduced mortality rate. One comprehensive review of the research published in Psychology Today showed that volunteering appears to reduce the risk of death by 25%. While the exact reason for this is not clear, researchers propose that ‘helping behavior’ makes people feel useful with a defined sense of purpose. This in turn creates positive feelings, lowering your stress level and increasing your life satisfaction.
Murray McNeil, a retired RCMP officer who spent 34 years keeping the community safe, now spends his days helping people feel safe and secure in their own homes. A Home Service Volunteer with Victoria Lifeline Medical Alert Service, Murray spends two full days a week installing the service in homes throughout Winnipeg. Murray started volunteering in 2004 with the Lifeline program in Brandon and was with them for seven years. Eventually, he moved to Winnipeg with his wife and took some time off from Lifeline to enjoy retirement. When his wife passed away, Murray said that he felt a void in his life and decided to go back to something he enjoyed and was good at. And the staff and fellow volunteers at Lifeline are so grateful that he did.
Volunteer Coordinator Melissa Sitter explains what Murray means to their organization, “Murray personifies what it means to be a volunteer. He goes above and beyond the call of duty in his role as a Home Service Representative (HSR). If another HSR calls in sick, Murray will cover the shift, no questions asked. He comes to the office with a smile on his face and a willingness to help out however he can. We are so lucky to have him.”
And Murray himself is grateful for the opportunity to give back. “You can’t even imagine the personal satisfaction I get knowing when I leave the home, that client is safe and protected. It makes me feel so much better – inside.” Even the clients themselves are happy to spend an hour with Murray as he sets up the Lifeline service and explains how it works. Murray prides himself on a personal approach he learned from his years as an RCMP officer. “I like to sit down with the client face to face and have a good talk about why Lifeline is so important. Some of the clients are resistant at first and I listen to their concerns and explain all the good things about the service.”
Murray’s approach works and family caregivers are particularly appreciative of his efforts and the extra time he takes with each client. Murray said that many seniors are living alone and some of them are very lonely. He sees the social isolation first hand and tries to make a positive impact while he’s there. “After I’ve spent some time installing Lifeline and I’m ready to leave, some of them have even asked, ‘can I have a hug’? They are so happy and pleasant – the gratification I receive after I’m done setting everything up, it’s what drives me to keep coming back.” In total, Murray has dedicated 11 years of service to Victoria Lifeline.
This April, please join Victoria Lifeline in celebrating volunteers and take a moment to acknowledge and thank a volunteer - because time is the most valuable gift you can give. If you are interested in volunteering with Lifeline and joining Murray and the rest of Victoria Lifeline’s amazing HSR team, please contact Melissa at (204) 956-6773. You can fill out the application on our volunteer page.