This past summer I began volunteering weekly at a local animal shelter. Before signing up for dog walking, I had no idea how much joy volunteering would bring me. I was looking for something to fill my time after work and figured I could use the exercise. Plus, I had the image of Daniel Radcliffe walking a dozen dogs in mind and wanted to do something akin to that. Although my dog walking experience turned out to be a little different (one dog at a time), it became something I look forward to every week. Whether you are walking dogs, making blankets, serving food, or building birdhouses, being of service to your community can be an enormous benefit to you, as well as the cause. Volunteering improves quality time, provides many health benefits, builds skills, increases one’s sense of purpose, and is possible will nearly any lifestyle. Finding enjoyment in service is not unique to me. Research has found that volunteering and helping others kindles happiness. In fact, volunteering not only increases happiness, but also improves physical and mental health. Serving one’s community is good for the self as well as good for the cause.
One of the best ways to make new friends or strengthen existing relationships is through participating in shared activities. Many people choose to volunteer with friends or family members as a way to spend quality time together. Volunteering with friends or family has many benefits. Children look up to the adults in their lives and watch what you do; when giving back to the community, one demonstrates how to make a difference in the community and how good it feels to help others and be part of a cause. When spending time volunteering with family and friends, you get to share your passion and your skills. If you want to get youngsters more involved, find out what volunteering opportunities are near you and suggest some that you think may interest them– when youth take part in choosing how to help, interest tends to be greater. As part of my job, I facilitate service projects where groups of students create their own ways to give back to the local community. The more involved students are in the decision-making process, the more enthusiastic they are when working on the projects. Whether you are looking to meet new people, deepen your relationships, or looking for some quality alone time, there are plenty of opportunities to meet every need. More of a lone wolf? There are plenty of volunteering opportunities for those who prefer some solo-time. Whether you prefer organizing books at your local library, or packaging food care bags, socializing cats at your nearby shelter, etc. there is always something for every lifestyle.
There are many health benefits associated with being of service. Volunteering is linked to lower stress levels which reduces one’s risk of a whole host of health issues including heart-related diseases, stroke, etc. Community service also reduces risk of depression and anxiety. Volunteering releases dopamine which increases feelings of relaxation and positivity and reduces stress. In fact, a longitudinal study of aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those that do not. In addition, volunteers report better physical health than non-volunteers. Being of service also provides a sense of meaning and appreciation to one’s life. When people get a chance to provide useful and needed support, it gives a greater sense of purpose to their own lives. Students in the service projects I facilitate take great pride in their work and often see the service work they do as part of their identity. I have been asked by many students if they will have a chance to do another service project in the future. Some students even go on to do their own projects at home with their families. Participating in projects that help the community or volunteering one’s time can be a huge boost for one’s self-esteem. According to the London School of Economics, they examined the relationship between happiness and volunteering in a large group of American adults. They found that the more people volunteer, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly, and 12% for people who volunteer every 2-4 weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy. Naturally, the more one volunteers, their reported happiness improves! Volunteering allows you to connect with your community, make the world a better place, and boosts your own happiness in the process. This in turn enhances one’s physical and mental health.
Another benefit of volunteering is the skills built along the way. For individuals and families, volunteering can be an opportunity to strengthen established talents or build new abilities. It is a great way to introduce young people to future career opportunities or to test out new interests. It is also a great way to make connections in a desired field. Teamwork, endurance, organization, planning, task-management are some of the many life skills that can be built when spending time volunteering. This can better prepare kids for life and also be a useful addition to one’s resume.
Before getting started, there are some details to consider when choosing a volunteering position. An important factor is time – how much time are you willing to put into volunteering? A few hours a month, weekly, etc. Some organizations do require a fixed minimum amount of hours when you sign on, while others are more flexible. Also, be sure to consider your interests, or if you want to volunteer as a family, consider mutual interests. Is this a group activity or do you prefer to work individually? Some places have age restrictions so it may be more fitting to make things at home or hold neighborhood drives with family and friends. Lastly, consider which non-profits and local shops are nearby. Many organizations would accept help but do not have an official online presence. Though, some organizations do have volunteer organizers and user-friendly sites. Other groups simply require a phone call to find what assistance is needed. There is often plenty of work to do and many places would love the support.
Whether you are finding ways to help from home, are volunteering your time, or getting various groups involved, you can make a difference in your own life as well as the lives of others. I hope you find the right fit for your lifestyle and can reap the rewards of giving back to the community.
Lakes Center for Youth & Families