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Nov 01 2013
The Real Truth about Volunteer Service
Melissa Mickelsen, CBF, Geneva Rock Products, Inc.
"Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer." *

As the holidays approach, we often feel a greater desire to provide service within our community. This volunteer service, whether provided during the holidays or at other times, can provide valuable and important benefits both to the individuals providing the service as well as those receiving it. These benefits include strengthened communities and improved individual lives. As we provide volunteer service, we help solve the problems around us.

The benefits we receive personally as we provide service to others are also varied and significant. These benefits include a sense of pride and satisfaction from knowing we've accomplished something good. We also reap social benefits as we develop relationships both with those we're serving alongside and those receiving our service. And we feel a sense of accomplishment as we share our talents and knowledge and gain new skills.

Volunteer service can also benefit our health, especially as we grow older. In an article entitled The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research prepared by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, the authors suggest that volunteer service leads to both improved physical health and improved mental health. These benefits seem to come as individuals volunteer at least one to two hours per week.

Improved physical health is demonstrated by lower mortality rates among those who give social support to others. The authors further state that several studies have found individuals with chronic or serious illness receive additional medical benefits through volunteer service. And studies cited in the article show that states with high volunteer rates also have lower incidences of heart disease.

Improved mental health comes as the social networks developed through volunteer service help a person buffer stress. The article suggests that volunteer work "provides individuals with a sense of purpose and life satisfaction." Further, research reviewed for the article found "statistically significant, positive relationships between volunteering and lower levels of depression" for individuals 65 and older.

A huge number of volunteer opportunities are available in many shapes and sizes. Some of these include volunteering for associations such as NACM or ICEL, volunteering with holiday programs such as Candy Cane Corner, volunteering at hospitals, schools, food banks, with church groups, medical groups, environmental groups, and many, many more. Volunteer opportunities can be ongoing or one-time occasions. 

When looking for the right fit in a volunteer opportunity, it is important to evaluate the amount of time you have to give and the commitment you're willing to make. You should also consider your passions and where you'd really like to make a difference. Consider who would you like to work with and if you prefer one-on-one or group settings. And consider what you'd like to gain from the experience.

Volunteer service can be immensely rewarding in addition to the other benefits received.  It can be a wonderful opportunity to move outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself while making a difference in the lives of others and improving the community. Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."



Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, DC 2007.  *Also quote source.