Vulnerability, Volunteerism, and Age-Friendly Communities: Placing Rural Northern Communities into Context


  • Elaine C Wiersma Lakehead University
  • Rhonda Koster Lakehead University


Volunteerism is considered to be one aspect of age-friendly communities. To be age-friendly is to indicate that the community is committed to promoting the well-being and contributions of older people. Rural northern communities can be vulnerable to external forces, and this vulnerability impacts volunteerism. Using a focused ethnographic approach, the purpose of this study was to examine aging in place in a rural northern community in northern Ontario in a state of economic transition and instability. Interviews were conducted with 84 participants, including older adults, health and social care providers, and other community members. There were several themes emerging associated with the idea of volunteering, including a lack of volunteers, volunteer burnout, community attitudes, a lack of newcomer participation, and a transitory lifestyle. These themes were discussed against the backdrop of a community in a state of economic instability, and reflected the demographic, economic, and social changes that the community had experienced over the last few years. The findings suggest that when examining the aspect of volunteerism within the age-friendly framework, the context of the community has to be taken into consideration.