12 Months of Wellness

Community involvement

12 Months of Wellness

August's 12 Months of Wellness focus is on community involvement. Discover simple ways to get involved in your community to make a real difference!

August marks the eighth month of our 12 Months of Wellness journey. If you’ve been following along since the beginning, pat yourself on the back. If you’re new, we welcome you to jump in and join us! This month, we flex our civic engagement muscles and become more involved in our communities.

Do good, feel good

Social participation (community involvement) is a major indicator of well-being for Canadians. Civic engagement such as volunteering can make us happier and healthier—all while bettering the places in which we live.

This month, we’re spending our first week learning more about the place we call home, and then we’re going to spend the other three weeks engaging with our communities in three important but different ways: first, by having fun; then, by volunteering; and finally, by creating change.

Drop us a line—online!

We’re well past the halfway mark on our 12 Months of Wellness journey, and we want to know how you’ve been doing. Hop online and update us with your challenges, successes, and tips, via blog comments on alive.com, Facebook comments, or by using the Twitter hashtag #2013alive.

Here at alive, we’re staying engaged too! Make sure to check out our updates on Twitter (@aliveHealth), Facebook (facebook.com/alive.health.wellness), and blog posts on alive.com to find out what we’ve been up to, and to download August’s goal tracking sheet.

Week 1: August 4 to 10
Learn about your community – Explore what your community has to offer

Before we can do good in our communities, we need to learn about them. It can be surprising how little we know about the communities in which we live, especially if we leave them to go to work every day.

This week, get to know your community a bit better.

  • Read your community newspaper. This simple step can be an important measure of community engagement.
  • Visit your community centres and tourist booth. While you’re there, pick up brochures and guides.
  • Check out your community website. You might find links to local organizations, community services, and even historical information. Consider signing up for eNewsletters sent to your inbox—especially if you don’t get a local paper.

Aim to familiarize yourself with current issues and upcoming events to get a head start on the next weeks’ goals.

Good to know

First time volunteering? Make note of these tips and helpful things to know before you begin.

  • Depending on the volunteering opportunity, you may need a criminal record check (for example, if you’ll be working with children). For some volunteering, you may also need to undergo additional training, such as a course in food safety or basic first aid.
  • Be realistic about how much time and energy you can commit to a cause. You may wish to start slowly and gradually build up to more hours, allowing you to balance your existing day-to-day activities. One-time volunteering events or remote/online volunteering opportunities might be easier for busy schedules.
  • Even though you’re not being paid, treat your volunteer role as a job, and strive to be a model “employee.” This means showing respect, working well with others, being on time, and taking breaks as scheduled. Along with helping things run smoothly and successfully, this may also help if you need to ask your volunteer coordinator to be a reference for you one day down the road.
  • “Many organizations take a more integrated human resource approach—it is what you do and not whether or not you are paid that guides the process for getting involved,” says Speevak Sladowski. “To find the best match between people and opportunities, many organizations follow the Ten Steps of Screening, which includes applications, interviews, reference checks, and possibly police records checks, so first-time volunteers should be prepared when they put their foot forward.”

Week 2: August 11 to 17
Have fun! Be a tourist in your own town

Dorothy may have said it best when she famously declared, “There’s no place like home!” And what better way to explore and rediscover your community by pretending to be a tourist? This week is all about engaging in our communities by simply having fun (fanny pack not necessary)!

Find an event

Stumped for ideas?

  • Visit a museum, library, historical site, art gallery, or even your local farmers’ market.
  • Participate in an outdoor festival or event (often held during summer months), such as a multicultural festival, children’s day, or seasonal amusement park.
  • Attend a play, puppet show, concert, dance performance, or local sports game.
  • Actively participate

To use a fancy anthropological term, active participation basically means that if we attend a performance, but stay in our seats during intermission, simply nod at the ushers, and leave as soon as it’s over, then we’re not fully engaging in the community.

On the other hand, making conversation with the theatre volunteers, visiting the gift shop or gallery, and chatting with the performers (if they come out into the lobby in costume after the show to sign autographs) are all ways to actively participate and become more involved.

Week 3: August 18 to 24

Donate your time – Give back in a meaningful way

According to Statistics Canada, 45 percent of Canadians volunteer their time. This week, we join them!

Benefits

  • Volunteering can improve our health. One study found that community garden volunteers in Toronto self-reported better nutrition, mental health, and physical activity. Other research has noted a “helper’s high” (a positive feeling we get from volunteering), lower rates of depression, and lower mortality rates in volunteers.
  • In older adults, researchers have linked volunteering to decreased isolation, higher self-esteem, and a reduced rate of stress-related illnesses. According to Paula Speevak Sladowski, interim president and COO, Volunteer Canada, volunteering “enhances social support, social inclusion, and civic engagement and promotes a sense of value and self-worth as it focuses on the strengths that one has to offer as opposed to needs.”
  • Additional benefits include making new friends, networking and creating career connections, developing new skills, and building your resumé.
  • Of course, at the heart of it, volunteering is about giving back. Did you know that more than half of the nonprofit and charitable organizations in Canada rely exclusively on volunteers? By volunteering, you support these amazing groups.

Get started

You can choose something based on your current skill set (whether it’s web design, gardening, accounting, event coordination) or an interest/cause you’ve always wanted to become involved in.

As Speevak Sladowski notes, “Whether someone wants to learn a new skill or use those they currently have in their volunteering, involvement greatly depends on where they are in their life cycle and their current goals. Youth, for example, often see volunteering as contributing to their job search by providing an opportunity to build or improve their skills, so they will often choose a volunteer opportunity based on the skills they want to gain.”

Some places that often look for volunteers include

  • environmental groups
  • advocacy groups for social issues
  • food banks or soup kitchens
  • animal shelters
  • ongoing or one-time festivals or events
  • places of worship
  • community gardens or parks/green spaces
  • theatres, museums, or art galleries
  • seniors’ centres
  • youth organizations and sports teams
  • women’s shelters
  • political parties

You may be able to go straight to the source, such as contacting a local animal shelter directly, or you can be matched with a volunteer opportunity by a third party. According to Speevak Sladowski, there are about 230 volunteer centres across the country that can help connect would-be volunteers. Visit Volunteer Canada’s website (volunteer.ca) for more information or to find the volunteer centre nearest you—or getinvolved.ca/match to find an opportunity that’s perfect for you.

Week 4: August 25 to 31

Get political – Create positive change in your community

Now it’s time to take things one step further and go about creating meaningful change in your community. You may wish to further pursue your volunteering opportunity to create positive change, or you may want to do something completely different.

If you’re not sure what you’d like to change, think back to your experiences over the past three weeks. Did anything stand out to you that you think is unfair or could be improved?

Once you know what it is you’d like to change, consider how you’d like to go about it. Being an activist doesn’t mean you have to chain yourself to a tree—although you can if you like! Activism comes in many different forms, and all are important.

  • Boycotts and letter writing are ever-popular. Keep in mind that companies, organizations, and politicians can generally be reached more quickly through email and online contact forms than post.
  • Attend a rally or protest, or even a community meeting. Come prepared with questions or speaking points.
  • Engage others by writing a letter to a local newspaper, creating your own blog about the issue, forming a group, or developing a petition.
  • If you’re feeling really engaged and enthusiastic, you might even consider getting involved in local politics!


Mix and match August goals

If you’re looking for a few activities to add to (or swap with) the weekly goals we’ve suggested for August, consider these ideas. After all, your 12 Months of Wellness journey should be all about you—so feel free to personalize it!

  • Get the whole family involved! This can teach children to think globally, to be grateful for what they have, and that they can make a difference. Plus, it can be a low-cost activity that brings the whole family closer together.
  • Talk to your employer about the possibility of corporate volunteering. Doing so can boost your company’s brand reputation and social capital, while giving back to the community.
  • Whatever happened to the days when we introduced ourselves to new neighbours, bearing gifts of homemade baked goods? Whether or not you bake a pie, welcome new neighbours in your community and make them feel at home.

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