There are plenty of reasons to volunteer your time for a good cause. While you can see the participants who are receiving the help are benefiting, did you know that you are experiencing positive benefits when you volunteer?

Studies have shown that when you donate your time and expertise to help others, it helps to foster a sense of belonging which gives you a new network of friends and may help ward off depression. There is a connection created with other people which can help you to make new friends, boost your social skills and prevent loneliness.

Volunteering provides a sense of purpose and can remind you that you have plenty of skills that are worth sharing with the world. It provides a sense of accomplishment and helps you to take your mind off of your own worries and problems, sometimes helping to remind you how blessed you are in your own situation. Researchers are even doing studies to correlate volunteering on a regular basis with a lowering of blood pressure and an increase in cognition skills. The preliminary results of those studies are looking promising!

If you are thinking about becoming a volunteer here are some questions to ask yourself:

– How much time would I have for volunteering?

– Do I have a favorite cause or organization that I would like to become more involved in?

– Do I want to work with adults, kids, animals?

– Do I like to work with others or do I like to work independently?

– What kind of skills do I have? (You have more than you think!)

Before diving into a non-profit organization, start close to home. Do your aging parents need some help with things they used to do independently? How about the neighbor down the street who lives alone and just had knee surgery? Would it be most helpful if you mowed your Mom’s lawn for her or brought your Dad to his doctor appointments? Could you pick up some groceries for someone while you are doing your own shopping? Is your neighbor a single mom with small children who could just use an hour to herself? Think of those people who are in your life already who could benefit from your help.

Do you like working with kids? Check out the local schools. They may look for guest readers, people who can help with arts and crafts, or people to help with special events like book fairs, vendor nights, or field day events. Sometimes schools can use help with creating the set for the annual school play too! The library loves to use volunteers for special events or reading to children as well as to restock the books back onto the shelves.

Do you like sports? Many organizations can use help coaching the children in the various sports. Even if the teams each have a head coach, a helper can give some extra attention to a child who is struggling or can do the little things like helping the kids put on equipment, collecting the balls, giving out water, lining the field etc.

Places of worship can always use help. Teaching religious education classes, keeping a food pantry running, working at a bazaar, cleaning the church and helping people of the religious community get to some of the services are just a few of the things that volunteers can do in these communities.

Hospitals can always use volunteers. You can work in the gift shop or visit patients who don’t have any visitors. You can help the younger patients to make crafts or you can read to patients. You can also do these things in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.

If you want to see what opportunities are available to you there are many websites you can go to that list volunteer needs in your community. If you search volunteer opportunities in your web browser you will find many websites devoted to volunteering. AARP has a site called createthegood.org and there is a site that is called volunteermatch.org where you can put your zip code in to find a list of events in your area.

Becoming a volunteer is a win-win situation. The people receiving the help are benefiting but you will be surprised at the joy you feel from the time you put in to help others. You know what they say: “it is better to give than to receive!”

By Sheila M. Clancy MS, CHES

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