Volunteering and Social Capital: A Case Study of Older Hospital Volunteers in Southern Ontario
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Volunteering as a form of social activity can facilitate older adults’ active aging through community engagement. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to understand the views on older adults’ volunteerism in a community hospital network in Southern Ontario. Utilizing in-depth interviews with 10 older volunteers (over the age of 65), document analysis, and a key informant interview, I explored their experiences of volunteering and social capital development at six hospitals in the network. Data analyses included open and axial coding, and conceptualization of the themes. Four major themes emerged from the data: reasons to volunteer, management’s influence, negative experiences of volunteering, and connections with others. The findings of this research emphasized older volunteers’ strong commitment and enthusiasm to support the hospital in their own communities, the power of volunteering to enhance the development of bonding, bridging, and linking social capital, and the influence of two major contextual factors (i.e. the Auxiliary Factor and the Change Factor) to facilitate or hinder older volunteers’ social capital development in the hospitals. Future research directions should focus on further unpacking the different degrees to which each type of social capital is developed, placing emphasis on the benefits of social capital development for volunteers in healthcare settings. The implications for practice include the targeted recruitment of older adults as healthcare volunteers while creating volunteer positions and environments in which they can develop social capital with their peer volunteers, hospital staff, patients, and people in surrounding communities. To sustain their existing dedicated long-term volunteers, in particular their Auxiliary groups, the community hospital network can enhance facilitating factors such as the Auxiliary Factor while mitigating the negative effects of the Change Factor. By developing social capital through volunteering in their own communities, older adults can engage in active aging, while participating in the development of an age-friendly community.