A better community is as simple as ABCD

This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on April 13, 2016.

Community starts with you.

Those who are involved in community activities in their childhood or adolescence are more likely to be engaged in their community as adults, suggests Statistics Canada. Additionally, volunteering cultivates a sense of belonging and increases social trust and social cohesion.

Hamilton is a leading Canadian volunteer city. The city’s volunteer rate is well above the provincial and national averages. In 2007, 52 per cent of people in Hamilton volunteered, compared to 47 per cent in Ontario and 46 per cent in Canada, reports the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Community-wide events are ideal for harnessing the power of the collective. For the Mohawk Students’ Association, the answer is as simple as ABCD — A Better Community Day. This one-day, city-wide event brought together residents to volunteer for charities and nonprofits. More than 100 people registered for the inaugural ABCD. Community members and students committed to a few hours on April 3 to volunteer for Food4Kids, the Escarpment Project, and City School by Mohawk (in partnership with the Eva Rothwell Resource Centre).

ABCD was spearheaded by some of the city’s emerging leaders: the Mohawk Students’ Association, in partnership with the McMaster Students Union and the Redeemer Student Senate. Their leadership speaks to a larger trend of volunteerism among youth and young professionals, who have the highest probability of volunteering. A 2010 Statistics Canada study found that Canadians aged 15 to 24 are more likely to volunteer than any other age group.

While it could be attributed to community service requirements for high school students, the trend is also reflective of a larger culture of volunteering among youth and young professionals.

Hamilton HIVE is a prime example. Except for a one-time grant for a part-time staffer, HIVE has been run by volunteers since its inception in 2011. This includes an executive team of four young professionals and four subcommittee chairs, who report to a volunteer board of directors of nine. The 23 member groups under the HIVE umbrella are also largely volunteer-driven. Many of them are grassroots groups formed to provide value and ways for young professionals to get involved in Hamilton.

Community day events like ABCD are promising because they unite residents toward a common goal to improve the well-being of their communities. There are many events like it in Hamilton. McMaster University’s MacServe service-learning program involves students volunteering locally or abroad either for a day, during reading week or during the summer. For a global citizen-driven movement, there is 100in1 Day taking place on June 4, where local residents initiate 100 urban interventions to transform their city.

The one-time nature of these events helps offset the No. 1 barrier to volunteering reported by Canadians: the lack of time. Meanwhile, more than 8 in 10 Canadians do informal volunteering by helping others directly through everyday activities, whether it is snow shovelling or running errands for neighbours.

It doesn’t take a lot to make an impact.

And it starts with you.