Volunteer Reflections: Surveying with Heart

Seniors are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. Currently 15% of our population is aged 65 and older, and that number is expected to increase to 25% by 2056.

As a member of that demographic and being involved with organizations that are advocating for a comprehensive National Seniors’ Strategy, I was highly interested in the Nelson Star article about the province-wide survey being conducted by the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate. Volunteers were needed to survey every resident in long term care about their quality of life. This opportunity appealed to me because it was connected to my advocacy work, it was time limited, and it was a way to support our community. I committed to the training and forty hours of surveying.

The training prepared me for the technical work. What I was unprepared for was the range of emotions the work elicited. The first contact with the resident always started like a cold call. Would they be interested in doing the survey? Sometimes the answer was a “hard no” and other times the answer was “not now”. That meant I would need to return. But if the answer was “yes” the session moved to the survey design of question and response. The start was usually quite formal with some curious hesitancy on the part of the resident. However, a few moments of silent patience would often provide opportunity for them to gain confidence and begin to relax. It was so rewarding to watch the mood change from caution to comfortable.

By the survey end a magical transformation had happened. Now it was my turn to listen. With a twinkle in their eye, the residents would share stories of their growing up, moving around, or hard times. There would be stories of pride in their accomplishments, and in their children and grandchildren. But then with the occasional quiet honesty would come the quiet disclosure of being kinless and an expression of their loneliness. We shared chuckles, expressions of wonder and sometimes a tear. I felt so privileged to be in their home, the place where their memories now reside. We had become friends.

As a first-time volunteer in such a venture, I would encourage other beginning volunteers to carefully follow the training guidelines. The integrity of the survey must not be compromised. But remember the human element. It is important to take some additional time with the resident. Find a balance for the survey and listening time. Always keep in mind that while you are gathering information you are a guest in the resident’s home, a place of rich memories that are waiting to be shared. The opportunity to gather information that will be used to improve the lives of the residents, combined with “heart hearing,” is invaluable. This gathering and listening will enrich your life, knowing that you have contributed to the lives of others in multiple ways.

If you are interested in volunteering or know someone who would like to be a part of this meaningful survey project,  apply here.

Article written by By OSA Surveyor, Grace Wilson

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