Life & Culture

The Hidden Value of Volunteering

Society enjoys an estimated $19 billion boost that enhances the lives and well-being of millions at every level. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer a dime.  It opens career doors.  It improves the quality of life for the giver and the recipient.  And it’s free. What is it?  Volunteering.

To be honest, volunteers add so much value to our lives and our world it seems that just giving them a month (April) isn’t enough.  (And COVID is not barrier to volunteering – visit here to find plenty of ways to be a virtual volunteer.) Organizations and the people they serve benefit directly from volunteers, but what’s surprising is the hidden value of volunteering….to the volunteers. Volunteering engenders better health, improved quality of life, and better cognitive function for volunteers. They get as much benefit as they give…or even more:  sometimes volunteering opens doors.

Volunteering into a new career

Fiona Adams, who now leads the health and wellness programming at Senior Planet, got her start there in 2016 as a volunteer helping participants at the gym during a Senior Planet fitness class. “I believe that serving others is important and decided to leave my career in corporate American to work with older people after caring for my mom for almost 10 years,” Adams says.

Our elders have so much to offer and they deserve support. It’s so gratifying to now lead the wellness program at Senior Planet after starting as a volunteer.  Our classes are helping our people connect, live healthier lives and have lots of fun doing it!” (Stay tuned for a special Fitness Day she has planned later in May).

Retirement? What retirement?

For Senior Planet volunteer Barbara Lewers (pictured at top), volunteering is almost second nature. “I came to Senior Planet to sign up as a member; I walked out as a signed-up volunteer and a member,” she recalls with a laugh.

Barbara has volunteered for several organizations since 2009, a year after her retirement as Director of Advertising Services for the Direct Marketing Association. Beginning at Visions, an organization offering services for the blind and visually impaired, Barbara visited a man needing “eyes” to read his mail, including bills, and other visual assist. “I looked forward to seeing him weekly,” Barbara says. “We developed a nice friendship over the four years I visited him.” Barbara also worked with a different New York City organization before joining – and volunteering – at Senior Planet’s West 25th Street New York City location.

A Special Experience

“It always felt good being at the Center,” says Lewers, who greeted members as they arrived, answered questions and was generally available for “whatever”. She enjoyed watching as new classes began, coming to know the teachers and the member-students.

Now with the NYC Senior Planet Center still closed due to Covid, she has developed a new appreciation of the benefits of volunteering. Although she’s a virtual volunteer for Senior Planet, it’s not quite the same. “I really miss the family feeling and seeing the people,”’ she says. “When you ‘touch’ someone, you feel good.”

Research backs it up

Research supports Lewer’s feel-good experience.  A study of 1,200 Senior Corps volunteers showed that 32 percent in good health when they began volunteering for a project reported even better health 24 months later. In addition, some 78 percent of volunteers reporting five or more symptoms of depression at the start of their volunteer experience felt less depressed two years later.

In Canada, a comprehensive review of 74 studies of the health impact of volunteering showed that it’s consistently associated with better overall health and fewer functional limitations. Nicole Anderson, PhD, a dementia and geriatric care researcher, says there is strong evidence that volunteering is associated with a longer lifespan. (The ‘sweet spot” is two or three hours a week, 100 hours a year.)

From “Whoopie!” to “Now what?”

It makes sense that this would be the case. On retirement day two things vanish: daily interaction with colleagues and a clear-cut purpose and structure that informed one’s life for decades. Within months, weeks, or even days, the initial “Whoopee! I’m free!” high can dwindle down to a “Now what?” depression.

Smart retirees figure out quickly that there’s a great, life-enhancing choice answering the Now what​? question. As Barbara Lewers did, they check out volunteer opportunities that suit their interests and abilities.

Where to start

You can start by considering the things you like to do and researching organizations (online or locally) where there are opportunities.  You could also contact organizations that help finding volunteer work near you.

  • VolunteerMatch is the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network.
  • Points of Light is a global network covering 250 cities and 37 countries.
  • Idealist.org lets you enter your skill or interest and location to find volunteer opportunities in your area and nearby cities.

Want to increase your involvement with Senior Planet? Donate $1 or more and become a Senior Planet Supporter to get access to exclusive volunteer opportunities. Learn more about becoming a Supporter! (https://seniorplanet.org/get-involved/supporters/)

COMMENTS

6 responses to “The Hidden Value of Volunteering

  1. Another way to learn about Volunteer Opportunities is by attending “Volunteering is Ageless “ on May 20, 3:30-4:30 EDT. Sign up for this free virtual event organized by Volunteer Referral Center at 212-889-4805 or Volunteer-Referral.com.

  2. I love volunteering in my town or city. It is a beginning during high school or college to help people in need and assisting ones self in job offers. The same will happen when we are senior’s in the community. It also helps our mental health as well. You are able to get up in the morning,get dressed and head out in the community to help once more.

  3. I am volunteering my invaluable time here.
    Sadly, my invaluable contribution is not appreciated and some of my invaluable comments are removed.
    Sorry, I don’t want and I won’t become a marching propaganda zombie to please the masters of marching zombies. I didn’t spend my life living and learning to become a tool of destructive propaganda.
    Stalin covered the entire Soviet Union with the slogans “Peace to the World” and “Friendship of the Nations” while being and remaining …. Stalin. Millions of American little Stalins promote “hugging the world” while being and remaining … little prospective Stalins.
    Ah, I never marketed anything and I don’t need the redemption.

    1. Anna,

      Usually I am not one to reply to anyone I don’t know, especially to someone who is very provocative . After reading your message a couple of times, I decided to say something.

      I guess what threw me, was your honesty. I have in a large part of my life remained holding back my thoughts, due to fear of loosing a job or friendship. As I have gotten older I don’t have the same fear. Being I no longer have to work, that fear was decimated. The people I feared losing were not worth my energy and kindness.

      Anna, I applaud your openness, although it might sting, no one will fall over and die. You as everyone is entitled to their own truth. Thank you for your refreshing commentary.

      1. Bonnie, I love your comment.
        My path has been unusual: tragic family background, a couple of physical emigrations, a number of internal emigrations, rebellious inclinations, quite a decent mind, and extended knowledge. I’ve been thinking along these lines recently: “Why do I have to please this or that bastard, this or that idiot, this or that both, or just anyone who basically has no connecting point with me. I am multilingual (English is my 7th in order of acquisition), multicultural (I mean that I know much more about several cultures than let’s say – the French eat quiche, the Poles eat barszcz, etc.) and multidgreed (including a Ph.D) and I am physically unable to function of the level of two dogmas, three slogans, and an army of platitudes.
        Some 15 years ago, a young artist responded to my comment about someone who I knew from the start was a sociopath and charlatan: “Read his books and you will know how wonderful he is.” I have been wondering ever since: “How do you raise such idiots, deprived of knowledge and understanding of anything?” No sensitivity to demagoguery, sloganeering and charlatanry, no acceptance of the fact that there is evil, no knowledge of autohagiographical nature of this particular book production (in this particular “Saint” case), etc.
        I have to stop. Reluctantly. I can continue, of course, forever.
        And for the first time, I am praising the “Center” for not removing my comment.

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