Psychosocial and Economic Impacts of Youth Volunteering in the Snow-buddies Program during the COVID‑19 pandemic
Issues related to social isolation are heightened in the winter months, in the Niagara Region (Dec-Apr), when snow often piles up in residents’ driveways, making it difficult for residents to come in and out of their houses to participate in community life and to access to social support services. Snow removal is and continues to be a challenge for elderly residents. Shoveling the driveway can be difficult for many seniors due to physical and health limitations such as chronic disease and/or mobility restrictions.
To improve seniors’ mobility in the winter months, the Community Support Services of Niagara (CSSN) runs the Snow-buddies program in which volunteers are matched to seniors living in the Niagara Region to shovel their driveways after heavy snowfalls. Our existing partnership has created a network of youth volunteers supporting the Snow-buddies program, but this marks the first academic research project for the partnership. There is a plethora of scientific information around the social and health benefits of volunteering. Yet, we do not currently have a population-based estimate of the psychosocial and economic impacts of youth volunteering in community-based senior services programs in Canada.
This project will be a partnership among researchers, CSSN, Age-Friendly Niagara Council, and Students’ Experiential Learning at Brock University. We will address three sets of questions:
1. What do youth (ages 18 to 28 years) and elderly residents (ages 65+ years) and their family members (ages 19+ years) perceive and experience psychosocial and economic benefits (in terms of social engagement, improved mobility/access to support services, and financial savings) of volunteering in the Snow-buddies program?
2. What are potential psychosocial and economic missed opportunities (in terms of social isolation, restricted mobility, and financial crisis) due to volunteer shortages in the Snow-buddies program?
3. How could future situations be handled to ensure that youth volunteers support community-based senior services?
Guided by the Community-based Partnership Research (CBPR) framework, we will apply a mixed-methods approach to data collection and analysis. In phase one, we will conduct focus groups (FGs) with elderly residents/family members and youth volunteers. This phase will give a holistic understanding of the youth engagement process and qualitatively explore psychosocial and economic impacts for participants. Guided by FGS, we will organize two small group workshops to develop the structured survey questionnaire for measuring population-based estimates of psychosocial and economic impacts. In phase two, we will administer a cross-sectional online survey (minimum sample size of 136) in two streams of participants, elderly residents successfully matched with volunteers and those without (or waiting to find) volunteer matches since the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic to date. Qualitative data will be analyzed using the QSR NVivo for emerging themes and subthemes from FGs. Quantitative (survey) data will be analyzed using SPSS statistical software to calculate frequencies, proportions, and regression-adjusted estimates of psychosocial and economic correlates. Subgroup analyses will be undertaken to compare findings between diverse groups, including age, gender, residence location, and timing of the COVID‑19 waves.