Volunteering is Good for Your Health | Why Volunteering Benefits Everyone

Volunteers Patti Sodeberg, Bonnie Thompson, JoBeth Lewer, and Melinda Arndt help out at a community rummage sale for the Fairfield Volunteer Center.

People have volunteered since the beginning of time for their families, communities, or countries. They may not have called it volunteering, but they fulfilled the definition by “working on behalf of others or a particular cause without payment for their time and services.”

Volunteerism is the foundation of successful communities but it also benefits the volunteer. Did you know that volunteering at least 100 hours a year can improve your health and extend your life? That’s just two hours a week.

A Healthy Way to Spend Time

The Corporation for National and Community Service found that “those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer” (The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, D.C., 2007). Their study found that this positive effect on physical and mental health comes from a personal sense of accomplishment. Volunteers also report greater life satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem.

The benefits are especially important for the elderly and retired, since volunteering provides them with physical and social activity and a sense of purpose at a time when their social roles are changing.

Although the health benefits are significant, most people are not aware of them. Why then do so many Americans spend their free time working for no financial compensation? What do they get out of it?

Helper’s High

The number one reason why people volunteer is the desire to help their community and give back. “There is a personal satisfaction of sharing the gift you have with other people to make your community a better place,” says David Neff, who has volunteered for over 40 years for numerous Fairfield organizations. Research­ ers call this feeling of satisfaction “helper’s high.”

Volunteering also gets people actively involved in something bigger than themselves. “You get to be a participant in your community, you are not a bystander, you are playing on the team, and not sitting on the bench,” says Don Hoelting, who likes to to help out at cultural events. “That’s a great thing.”

Friends with Common Goals

Other important reasons for community service are the pure joy of being around people who share a similar interest and the fun of making new friends. Most volunteer activities entail interacting with others. You can be ushering audiences at a theater, orienting visitors at an event, or making artwork with kids.

“I volunteer because it gets me out of the house and because I enjoy children,” says Elizabeth-Rose Augosto, a retired school teacher. Working towards a common goal creates a feeling of high energy.

Having a Blast

People usually volunteer for an activity they enjoy or a cause they value. You can watch astounding performances at your local theater if you offer to be an usher. Or you can play with cats and dogs at one of the animal shelters.

I recently volunteered for the 1st Fridays Art Walk Film Expo because I’d always enjoyed it as an audience member. By helping to coordinate a film production workshop, I used my organizing and writing skills for an event that entertained others as well as gave me the opportunity to talk to directors, actors, and producers. It was a lot more fun being on the inside.

A Free Education

Volunteering is a great way to try out a new skill or explore an area you are interested in, just like I did. Now I know a lot more about putting on a film festival and making a movie.

You can improve your communication and leadership skills, gain self-confidence, and practice professionalism. In addition, the experience you acquire can improve your resume.

 “I have learned a tremendous amount,” says Yael Ya’ar, who volunteers for Noah’s Ark Animal Foundation. “I have received a certification for dog assessing and learned about dealing with businesses.”

It Helps Your Community

In spite of the economic downturn, volunteering in the U.S. is still steady. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that in 2008, 61.8 million Americans or 26.4 percent of the adult population contributed 8 billion hours of volunteer service worth $162 billion. The highest volunteer rate of the four regions of the country is the Midwest, and Iowa ranks at number five of all states with a 37.1 percent volunteer rate. This only represents volunteering through an organization and doesn’t include attending community meetings and helping out in the neighborhood.

Residents can volunteer to work in schools and childcare centers, in assisted living facilities and hospices, in animal shelters, in parks, in art galleries, and at cultural events, just to name a few.

“Volunteering enriches and sustains our community, costs nothing, improves the quality of life in town, uplifts local spirits, and creates a positive and creative social environment for a thriving community,” says JoBeth Lewer, Director of the Fairfield Volunteer Center. The center coordinates volunteer opportunities for 250 volunteers for about three dozen local non-profit organizations (see www.fairfieldvolunteercenter.org.

If your community doesn’t have it’s own volunteer center, check out www.volunteeriowa.org. A quick Internet search for volunteering in your area can show you the organizations and agencies that use volunteer help.

Although there is no financial reward, extensive benefits of volunteering make it time well spent. If there’s an event you enjoy or a cause that inspires you, find out if you can participate by offering your skills. By giving your time and talent you’re guaranteed to receive something in return.

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