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Volunteering for people (and community)

Bear in mind as we examine the multitude of studies reported in this section that the volunteers being considered have an intense interest in certain kinds of people who can benefit from their services. These people may be children, youth, athletes, hospital patients, artistic performers, or the elderly (e.g., coach, player in a card game, conversational companion). Popular volunteers like working face-to-face with one or more of these categories or they like serving indirectly their interests (e.g., cook at a children’s camp, lighting expert for an amateur theatre), if not both. This matter of interest is a particular expression of the wider principle of leisure taste: people go in for activities they like to do with people, objects, animals, and so on who are especially attractive (Stebbins 2014:36)

A large number of articles, chapters, and books report data on volunteers serving one or more community interests. Prominent here is the research carried out by Susan Arai, sometimes in collaboration with Alison Pedlar (Arai 1997; 2000; Arai and Pedlar 1997). We have already mentioned Arai’s (2000) study of volunteers in community planning initiatives, from which she developed the tripartite typology of volunteers identified as “citizen," “techno," and “labor." She also gathered data through interviews with board members of the three Canadian organizations she studied and with their service volunteers (e.g., those involved in fund-raising, administration, delivery of programs or events). In the interviews Arai examined the experiences of these career volunteers, including the benefits they realized: opportunity to make a contribution, develop knowledge and skills, and form relationships. She also found that they faced several frustrations.

Arai and Pedlar (1997) found that citizen participation in community health planning leads to benefits associated with serious leisure and community building in general. Five themes, termed “benefits" emerged from their interviews with citizens who volunteered in such initiatives. They were (1) learning and developing new skills, (2) becoming more vocal, (3) finding balance and renewal, (4) participating in group accomplishment and helping effect change, and (5) contributing to development of their community. Participants involved in the visioning process felt greater overall benefit from their participation than those who had not been part of the original visioning exercise.

Also fairly common are studies of community contributions made by way of volunteering for youth organizations and events, where the youth themselves are a main category of participant. We have already briefly reviewed Henderson’s (1981; 1984) study of 4-H workers.

Later, Nigel Jarvis and Lindsay King (1997) examined the Guide and Scout Associations in Sheffield, England. Volunteers provide a vast human resource for these organizations. There appears to be general disillusionment among the participants, however, especially the key volunteers. In this regard the loyalty of these leaders is an asset for the associations, and the degree to which the leaders are seriously committed appears to be higher than in other voluntary organizations. Still, the fact that a few people do everything has implications for the recruitment and retention of volunteers. Leaders in the Jarvis and King study complained that there were not enough people to volunteer.

Geoff Nichols and Lindsay King (1999) demonstrate the value of the concept of recruitment niche for understanding the difficulties the Guide Association in the United Kingdom had in recruiting volunteers. Seeing Guiding as career volunteering shows how the distinctive ethos (distinctive quality number 5) shared by the existing volunteers contributes to the social construction of the recruitment niche. The defining boundaries of the niche restrict finding new volunteers. The authors present an example of how a recruitment niche for a voluntary organization can be defined, by using the socially constructed ethos of volunteers involved in career volunteering rather than by characteristics such as level of educational attainment. They also demonstrate the implications of this approach for voluntary organizations wishing to enhance their recruitment.

Linda Oakleaf (2006) interviewed a sample of twelve women in the United States about their long-term volunteer roles in the Girl Scouts. The following three questions guided her research: (1) why women engage in volunteering, (2) whether they consider it leisure, and (3) how they negotiate constraints to volunteering. Phenomenology provided the theoretic anchor for the analysis. All participants had daughters in their troops, and linked their volunteering to the responsibility to care for their daughter. Participants benefited from volunteering, which motivated them to continue. Moreover, most participants adopted the role identity of Girl Scout volunteers. Participants experienced volunteering as serious leisure, with all the advantages and disadvantages inherent in commitment to complex pursuits.

Steven Howlett (2014) noted that the trend in managing volunteers, compared with the past, is toward a more formal approach. Yet, given the diversity of volunteer activities, formality in this area is not always the most fruitful managerial strategy. For there are times when volunteers clearly enjoy what they do, meaning that it is leisure rather some disagreeable non-work task (see the earlier section in this chapter about volunteering as leisure). The formal approach tends to miss this essential aspect of true, voluntary volunteering. Howlett concludes that “there is a clear role here for well-informed organisation and management that encourages participation without taking the fun out of everything” (p. 152).

McCormack et al. (2008) noted that the baby boomers are a generation with the potential to challenge traditional ideas about ageing, retirement, and leisure. However, little is known about the lived experience of leisure in the lives of these people as they approach and move into retirement. This team of researchers used in-depth interviews to explore the leisure experiences of fifty-five female baby boomers living in the Yass Valley local Government area of rural New South Wales, Australia. Three key themes emerged: leisure is a personally meaningful interaction; retirement is not a time of leisure change; and retirement is not a time for “doing nothing.” These findings raise questions about the appropriateness of designated “seniors” leisure activities targeted at women, as well as the desirability of narrowly focused leisure marketing campaigns aimed at a stereotypical image of what it means to be an older woman. In fact, the interviewees’ leisure volunteering had clear benefits for their community as well as for themselves. Importantly for the future of this rural community, female baby boomers expected that leisure volunteering experienced through commitment, connection, and contribution to community was something (i.e., career volunteering) that they would continue to do as they aged.

We turn next to mentoring. A mentor is one who, with regard to a particular area of life, is trusted and respected by a protege, based on a significant level of experience and knowledge that the latter believes the former to have (Stebbins 2006). The terms “mentor” and “mentoring” are vaguely defined, even though there has been, over the years, a fair amount of scholarly thought and research reported on both the role and the process. The author aims to clarify the meanings of these two ideas and to explore the relationship of both to leisure. Mentors are seen as serious leisure volunteers, albeit ones whose altruism is expressed on a small scale. That is, they usually target only one person - the protege - to benefit from their advice. These ideas were supported by interviews with a small sample of mentors serving in the Alberta Mentor Foundation for Youth.

Warner, Callaghan, and de Vreede (2013) mounted an action research project to investigate a community-based, participatory learning approach to promoting sustainable food choices and food citizenship by way of a project-based leisure experience. The study’s theoretic background consisted of radical adult education, community-based social marketing, practice theory, and the SLP. Volunteers hosted friends for a sustainable meal in their homes. The meal included guided activities, critical reflection on food system issues, values-based dialogue, and written commitments to shift habits. A combination of participant observation, surveys, and follow-up qualitative interviews indicated that the meal program had an influence on those who participated, shifting their habits and increasing their choices of sustainable foods. The changes seemed to root in increases in motivation springing from reflection on personal values rather than in a reduction in external barriers. A synthesis of the empirical findings and literature suggests five key characteristics of an adult education approach to project-based leisure that can facilitate food citizenship: personal social context, engaged experiences, social norms, social networks, and community-based resources.

Gallant, Arai, and Smale (2013) adopted a communitarian framework to explore relationships between individuals and community. To this end, they surveyed 300 current volunteers at 10 voluntary organizations in Canada with the goal of examining the relationships among volunteers’ personal value orientations of individualism and collectivism, their experiences of volunteering as serious leisure, and their perceptions of their sense of community and social cohesion. Based on the responses to the questionnaires, the authors were able to link collectivism and individualism to serious leisure, which in turn was strongly associated with a sense of community and social cohesion. In these empirical findings, serious leisure emerged as a pathway for nurturing community.

Using a sample of Canadian university students, Galant, Smale, and Arai (2010) also explored students’ attitudes of social responsibility and participation in volunteering. In particular, the authors were interested in learning how these attitudes are related to prior experiences of mandatory community service in high school. Students’ perceptions of the quality of their mandatory community service experience were found to be powerful predictors of their attitudes toward social responsibility. Meanwhile, ongoing volunteering was found to be affected more significantly by school and community influences, most notably prior volunteer involvement. Galant and her colleagues concluded that community service experiences, when perceived as being of high quality, may engender ongoing civic engagement. They suggest that aligning mandated community service with serious leisure might increase quality of experience, and provide an avenue for experiencing the rewards and benefits associated with civic participation.

Alexandra Coghlan (2005) examined volunteering tourism. She concluded in her doctoral thesis that researchers describe the volunteer tourism experience as a form of serious leisure, with a focus on learning and contributing to a worthwhile cause. Other motives that have been associated with volunteering and tourism include escape, relaxation, relationship enhancement, self-development, building a personal power base, advancing a personal agenda, developing a career that leads to status or other rewards, interest in the subject matter, and an interest in helping the researcher. Still, how ubiquitous these motives are and how they shape the volunteer tourism experience is not yet known.

Coghlan investigated the volunteer tourists’ expectations and experiences with the goal of enhancing volunteer tourism’s potential as a conservation tool. She sought to identify key variables and factors which shape this sector and to prepare the way for subsequent large scale empirical studies. Her research aims were (Study One) to identify differences between organizational images that might lead to different volunteer tourist experiences, (Study Two) to determine the socio-demographic and motivational profiles of volunteer tourists, (Study Three) to examine volunteer tourists’ experiences and to identify patterns of experience and the elements that lead to a satisfying experience, and finally (Study Four) to understand the experience from point of view of the expedition staff.

The results of Study Two indicated that, whereas most of the volunteer tourists’ motivations and expectations were fulfilled, their moods, satisfaction levels, and overall assessment of the expedition were dependent on the presence of four elements: the opportunity for skill/knowledge development, having fun, experiencing new things, and contributing to a worthwhile project. The need for fun and new and different experiences contradict previous notions of volunteer tourism as a form of serious leisure involving altruistic motivations.

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