The best thing we can do for ourselves
When you ask people why they volunteer, they usually tell you that they feel enriched by their activities and that it just feels good to do good. A 1991 report from Volunteer Ontario confirms that volunteer work lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, and enhances self-esteem.
Tony, a retired civil engineer, lost his only son to a motorbike accident, and less than a year later, lost his wife of 49 years to a brain tumour.
“For almost two years I fell into a deep depression,” he admits now. “But when my doctor, who is also a family friend, pushed me into doing some volunteer work, I took his advice and never looked back.”
Today, Tony is active at a seniors’ centre teaching computer skills and woodwork to eager students. Friends tell him that he got the bounce back in his step. “I not only got busy doing things that I like, but I also made some great friends.”
When you ask people why they volunteer, they usually tell you that they feel enriched by their activities and that it just feels good to do good. As Dr. Julius Segal, psychologist and author of Winning Life's Toughest Battles: Roots of Human Resilience (McGraw-Hill, 1986), urges us, “Helping others is the best thing we can do for ourselves!” Volunteering satisfies a deep emotional need in all of us.
No matter what your age or interest, doing volunteer work is a great way to give back to your community. It pays plenty of dividends. A 1991 report from Volunteer Ontario confirms that volunteer work lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, and enhances self-esteem.
Volunteering is a great opportunity for seniors. The George Warren Brown School of Social Work’s study on the effects of volunteering reported in the Journal of Gerontology B: Social Sciences (2003), showed that the elderly are happier, healthier, and feel more energetic when they are involved in volunteer activity.
A case in point is Irma, a 76-year-old retired teacher and widow, who just received her 25-year pin for outstanding volunteer work at her local hospital. She describes her volunteering this way, “I see volunteer work simply as a loving way to affirm that we all need one another.” Amen!
Becoming a volunteer requires not much more than acting on your desire to do good and to help those who need help. There is no shortage of choices in the volunteering field. Once you find your niche, you’ll rarely look back. Experts advise that unless you really enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t last. So, if your first choice doesn’t fit, switch to another activity.
Also, as Carolyn, who volunteers for her local ECU (extended care unit), sees it, “Through volunteer work we can define ourselves and develop new strength and compassion.”
Lena, 46 and chef at a local hotel, does volunteer work almost as an extension of her profession. Whenever a major charity, senior, or volunteer group sponsors a major event and needs a cook, she is there to lend a helping, professional hand. Lena’s son, 16-year-old Will, lends his energy and talent to help out at the Terry Fox Run and other beneficial sporting events.
Over the years I did my volunteering initially with school and youth groups, switching later to working with elderly handicapped persons and lending a hand at our seniors’ centre. I’ve spoken with numerous volunteers of all ages, men who teach “tweenies” to hit the ball properly, women who lead girl guides on nature hikes, and volunteers who work at local hospitals or take the elderly and infirm on wheelchair rides. All of them stress the importance of choosing an activity or cause that really appeals to you.
Local volunteer centres and agencies will gladly assist you if you need help deciding. From delivering meals to shut-ins, to covering crisis lines, counselling at your local activity centre, helping out in a women’s halfway house, working at a hospice or hospital, your choices are almost endless.
According to the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (Statistics Canada, 2000), an astonishing 6.5 million Canadians, or 27 percent of the population age l5 and older, gave of their time in one form or another. There must be a good reason for this!
Regardless of your age, education, or financial status, if you haven’t tried volunteering, now is the time.