Reducing Suicides Through Volunteerism

The Cause

Wellness Services received a grant in 2022 to spend a year creating a Suicide Prevention Strategy for the College, using Life Promotion which utilizes Indigenous Ways of Knowing. Essentially this states that there would be no suicide if all people had Belonging, Hope, Meaning, and Purpose.

A group of students have engaged with elders (see images below for one of our visits) as well as many many students on campus to talk about those four pillars - what do they mean to students, what exists that fills those pillars, where are the gaps, what could we do better?

From this a number of projects have been identified and are underway. Some of those include utilizing spaces and programs and ideas that already exist on campus, to build on them in a way that relates to the findings of the students and the understanding and learning from the elders. This includes working on a makerspace area for peer support, because as the elders stated, working with your hands while talking is helpful and a common practise. It also gives people purpose and meaning and hope as they create things. We are looking to expand our animals in an animal therapy way, on campus because animals came up across all four pillars. Volunteerism and growing things/plants were the other two things that came up across all four pillars.

We are at a point now where some of the things we need to implement have costs that are not budgeted for. We would like to use funding to build a base for the Volunteerism pillar on campus. There is a volunteer program that currently exists in one department that we would like to expand campus-wide, to include all departments and make all students aware. We know that there are many volunteer opportunities on campus that aren't formalized and so we would like to capture all of that information as well. This would also include creating a bridge between our campus and Volunteer Lethbridge, the community volunteer centre that supports all the not for profits in the community, to help our students and employees also understand the opportunities to help off campus.

Not for profits have been struggling for volunteers since Covid. There is a real pressure on the sector right now and Volunteer Lethbridge could utilize all the help it can get. The Lethbridge College campus base is a perfect one to connect with.

Not only does community win, but our students will find Belonging, Hope, Meaning and Purpose, thereby reducing suicides.

Who Will it Benefit?

There are hundreds of not for profits in Lethbridge. This includes sports groups, arts groups, animal rescues, those serving the vulnerable, cultural groups and more! All of these organizations will benefit from the energy, enthusiasm, skills and creativity of the Lethbridge College student base.

Lethbridge College will benefit as volunteerism has been shown to have significant positive mental health effects and this was also duplicated in our conversations with students about what things give them Meaning, Hope, Belonging and Purpose, with volunteerism being one of only three things that consistently came up across all four pillars. Many post-secondary students are at risk youth, especially with the cost of living these days, and the mental health challenges that seem to have escalated since Covid first appeared. This is being seen all over Canada and so this project also has the potential to become a project that could be emulated at other campuses across the country.

Our students can use their classroom learning and apply it to help organizations that align with their career goals, but they can also see that volunteerism can be episodic such as event volunteerism, done from home, regular ongoing, or very flexible. They will learn leadership skills that will help them grow but also help stabilize the volunteer sector in Lethbridge as they become our future Board members and even work in the sector as they learn about the many organizations that exist.

Our current very small volunteer program was built and overseen by a few employees with a passion but no formal training in running a volunteer program so this funding will allow them to get properly trained and for us to recruit more employees to help in the coordination of a larger program. The funding will also allow us to properly brand and market the program on campus and to the community.