|Melanie G. Taylor
Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Agent
The importance of volunteerism has always been strong, but in these tough times of economic hardship, natural disasters, and wartime, the number of volunteers helping those in need are not only helping others, but themselves, too. Upon entering office, President Obama began a campaign-United We Serve. This program is managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative.
Gulf County 4-H volunteer assists with a 4-H lesson on healthy ocean life. Photo Credits: Melanie Taylor, Gulf County
An unexpected benefit through this initiative is that volunteers are helping themselves to better health while helping others. According to the CNCS, over the past 20 years, there has been more and more research showing that volunteering provides health benefits in addition to social benefits. The reports show that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and less incidence of heart disease. “Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger,” said David Eisner, CEO of the CNCS. “More than 61 million Americans volunteer to improve conditions for people in need and to unselfishly give of themselves. While the motivation is altruistic, it is gratifying to learn that their efforts are returning considerable health benefits.”
The studies, which were controlled for other factors, found that volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health. The research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually.
The rewards go beyond better health. Other benefits reported by volunteers:
- Being happier
- Having better self esteem
- Having a sense of control over their life
When questioned, some of the more common reasons that people give for giving of their time include:
- It makes them feel better about themselves.
- It helps them gain a better understanding of other people, places, and cultures.
- It helps them meet new people, make new friends, or further their careers.
- It is a good means of giving back to their communities and to supporting humanitarian causes.
So, if you have thought about volunteering, but have not, here is your reason to begin; if you already are, keep up the dedication. With so many stressors in our lives these days, it’s important for us to find healthy ways to cope. Volunteerism may be just the remedy you’re looking for. Aim to make positive changes in your life and health today – VOLUNTEER and feel the benefits of giving to others.
To find local volunteer programs in your community, be sure to contact your local Extension Office, non-profit agencies, and other local community organizations. For more information on the CNCS, visit http://www.nationalservice.gov.
Sources: Corporation for National and Community Service (http://www.nationalservice.gov) and Diabetes Education Voices Blog by American Association of Diabetes Educators (http://www.diabeteseducationblog.org/).