Volunteers can make an immeasurable difference in the lives of others. Oftentimes, they perform with the core intention of helping others. But did you know that volunteering can benefit your own health as well? Researchers have attempted to measure the benefits that volunteers receive including positive feelings referred to as “helper’s high”, increased trust in others, and increased social interaction. In light of the pandemic in 2020, volunteerism has shifted due to more stringent health guidelines, stay at home orders, and a lack of on-site staff who are currently working remotely. However, this does not mean that you cannot make a difference in the lives of others. Let’s first talk about the health increased benefits for older adults,* such as:
1. Decreases the risk of depression. Research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, especially for individuals 65 and older. Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests — both of which have been shown to decrease depression.
2. Provides a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills. Volunteers can perform critical roles in assisting an organization and its staff. The work that volunteers provide is essential to everyday processes, which gives volunteers a sense of purpose and expands their knowledge base.
3. Helps people stay physically and mentally active. Volunteer activities can get you moving and thinking at the same time. One study found that volunteering among adults age 60 and over provided benefits to physical and mental health. Another study found that, in general, volunteers report better physical health than do non-volunteers. Older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of volunteering.
4. Volunteering may reduce stress levels. Volunteering may enhance a person’s social networks to buffer stress and reduce the risk of disease. By savoring time spent in service to others, you will feel a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.
5. Volunteering may help you live longer. An analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender, and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience a decline in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.
6. Volunteering helps you meet others and develop new relationships. One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to participate in a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people who share common interests with you. Dedicating your time as a volunteer also helps you expand your network and practice social skills with others.
Although opportunities for face to face volunteerism may be limited by organizations or by your own health limitations during the pandemic, here are a few ideas to consider that will bring fulfillment to you and to others during this time of change.
- Provide Healthy Provisions to Hospitals, Nursing Homes, and Shelters. If your talent is sewing, have you thought about sewing masks for this population? Their staff can even come to pick them up or arrange a safe drop off location. You can also donate through a national effort like Masks 4 Medicine or Joann’s 100 million masks initiative.
- Become a penpal to boost the spirits of individuals in the hospital, foster care, or nursing homes. Many individuals of all ages have been cut off from communication from friends and families due to stay at home orders. A simple note to say “You Are Not Alone” can go a long way during this lonely time.
- Deliver meals to vulnerable populations. You may not want to provide food “en mass” like many of the organizations are doing these days, but you can still provide a drop off service without direct contact with people while being equally impactful. Contact your local Meals on Wheels to see how you can help deliver a healthy and much-needed meal to those who are not only home-bound but are in financial crisis due to the economic crisis.
- Run errands for someone in your neighborhood. This option does provide some self-introspection, but if you are able and willing to assist with picking up grocery items, picking up medications, baby food, or diapers for someone who is strapped for time, lack of a vehicle or funds to hire someone, you may want to sign up for your a neighborhood application or provide a note in your neighbor’s mailbox with contact information. The time to strengthen your community closest to your home is needed now more than ever.
- Lastly, for those tech-savvy, you may be able to offer a virtual cooking class for young adults with disabilities, read a book to young children, or play a virtual video game if you are inclined.
YOU WILL RECEIVE MORE THAN YOU GIVE
In the end, there is no greater gift than that of service above self and when you connect with others who also believe this. Something magical happens when we realize we are not alone – professionally or personally. When you give of your time and talent, people take notice and that authenticity can connect you beyond whatever your immediate goal may be. Relationships, connections, and passion are what build communities and businesses, so what are you waiting for?
Michelle Turman, MA, CFRE is the CEO of Catalyst Consulting Services whose mission is to facilitate positive change for nonprofits in the areas of executive searches, organizational management, and fundraising. With over twenty-seven years of nonprofit experience, Turman has been responsible for increasing the impact and best practices of nonprofit organizations she serves and has raised over $75 million for the Tampa Bay community through her professional and personal philanthropic efforts.
Turman is author of the best-selling book, Jumping the Queue – Achieving Great Things Before You Are Ready which focuses on how professionals can seize personal and professional opportunities, achieve great things, and get what they want and deserve. In addition to facilitating change nationally and in the Tampa Bay area, Michelle’s community service has included leadership roles on the boards of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Charitable Gift Planners of Tampa Bay, Donate Life America, Leadership Pinellas, the South Tampa YMCA and University of South Florida’s Women in Leadership & Philanthropy & Deans Advisory Council, and Working Women of Tampa Bay Foundation.
Turman has been recognized by Tampa Bay Metro Magazine as one of Tampa Bay’s Distinguished Women in Business and the Face of Nonprofit Change, nominated by Tampa Bay Business Journal as Business Woman of the Year in 2007, 2016, and 2017 and was recently nominated by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce as The Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year for 2018.
*Mayo Clinic Health System