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Helping Others While Helping Yourself

With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits of volunteering are enormous to you, your family and your community.  The right match can help you find new friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and possibly even advance your career. Volunteering can also help protect your mental and physical health. Learn more about the many benefits of volunteering and find tips on getting started.

 

Benefit #1:Volunteering Connects You to Others One of the better-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community. Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of those you serve. And volunteering is a two-way street: It can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills.Volunteering helps you make new friends and contacts.Volunteering strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities. Volunteering increases your social and relationship skills.Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests.Volunteering as a family. While it might be a challenge to coordinate everyone’s schedules, volunteering as a family has many worthwhile benefits. Children watch everything you do. By giving back to the community, you show them firsthand how volunteering makes a difference and how good it feels to help others and enact change. It’s also a valuable way for you to get to know organizations in the community and find resources and activities for your children and family.

Benefits #2: Volunteering is good for your mind and body. Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. Your role as a volunteer can give you a natural sense of accomplishment, pride and identity. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and goals. Volunteering provides a sense of purpose. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life. Volunteering combats depression. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular communication with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against stress and depression when you’re going through challenging times. Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, even when considering factors like the health of the participants. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease.

Limited mobility? People with disabilities or chronic health conditions can still benefit greatly from volunteering. Research has shown that adults with disabilities or health conditions ranging from hearing and vision loss to heart disease, diabetes or digestive disorders all show improvement after volunteering. Whether due to a disability, a lack of transportation, or time constraints, many people choose to volunteer their time via phone or computer. There are many projects where you can help. If you think home-based volunteering might be right for you, contact organizations you like and ask about the possibilities.

Volunteering: The happiness effect

Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers. (Adapted with permission from Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.)

Benefit#3: Volunteering can advance your career. Considering a new career? Volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. Volunteering can provide career experience. Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organizations or internships that could be of benefit to your career. Volunteering can teach you valuable job skills. Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you raise awareness for your favorite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills. When it comes to volunteering, passion and positivity are the main requirements. While learning new skills can be beneficial to many, it’s not a requirement for a fulfilling volunteer experience. Bear in mind that the most valuable skills you can bring to any volunteer effort are compassion, an open mind, a willingness to do whatever is needed, and a positive attitude.

Benefit#4: Volunteering brings fun/fulfillment to your life. Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be a relaxing, energizing escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments. Volunteering also provides you with renewed creativity, motivation, and vision that can carry over into your personal and professional life. Consider your goals and interests when volunteering. You will have a richer and more enjoyable volunteering experience if you first take some time to identify your goals and interests. Start by thinking about why you want to volunteer. Also think about what you would enjoy doing. Volunteer opportunities that match both your goals and your interests are most likely to be fun and fulfilling for you.

Finding the right volunteer opportunity. First, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do. For example, do I want to…make it better around where I live? Meet people who are different from me? Try something new? Do something with my spare time? See a different way of life and new places? Have a go at the type of work I might want to do as a career? Do more with my interests and hobbies? Do something I’m good at? The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search. (Source: World Volunteer Web)

There are numerous volunteer opportunities available. The key is to find a volunteer position that you would enjoy and are capable of doing. It’s also important to make sure that your commitment matches the organization’s needs. The following questions can help you narrow your options: Would you like to work with adults, children, animals, or volunteer remotely from home? Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team? Are you better behind the scenes or do you prefer to take a more visible role? How much time are you willing and able to commit? How much responsibility are you ready to take on? What skills can you bring a volunteer job? What causes are important to you?

Consider several volunteer possibilities. In your search for the right volunteer opportunity, don’t limit yourself to just one organization or one specific type of job. Sometimes an opportunity looks great on paper, but the reality is quite different. Try to visit different organizations and get a feel for what they are like and if you click with other staff and volunteers. The more satisfaction you have as a volunteer, the better your contributions and the more likely you’ll continue.

Where do I find volunteer opportunities? Non-profit organizations/Community theaters, museums and monuments/Libraries/Senior centers/Service organizations such as Lions and Rotary Clubs/Local animal shelters and rescue organizations/Youth Organizations, sports teams and after-school programs/Food pantries/Places of worship such as churches, synagogues and mosques/Online databases: Just type in “Volunteer Opportunities” in your browser’s search bar.

How much time should you volunteer? Volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life to be beneficial. In fact, research shows that just two to three hours per week, or about 100 hours a year, can confer the most benefits—to both you and your chosen cause. The important thing is to volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable to you. Volunteering should feel like a fun and rewarding hobby, not another chore on your to-do list.

Getting the most out of volunteering.You’re donating your valuable time, so it’s important that you enjoy and benefit from your volunteering. It’s important to make sure that your volunteer position is a good fit and to communicate with the people you’re working with in the volunteer organization.

Ask questions. You want to make sure that the experience is right for your skills, your goals, and the time you want to spend. If you have any questions, be sure to speak up. Sample questions to your volunteer coordinator might address your time commitment, if there’s any training involved, who you will be working with, and what to do if you have questions during your experience.

Make sure you know what’s expected. Before starting, make sure you are comfortable with the organization, know what is expected, and understand the time commitment. Consider starting small so that you don’t over commit yourself at first. Give yourself some flexibility to change your focus if needed.

Don’t be afraid to make a change. Speak up if your experience isn’t what you expected. Don’t force yourself into a bad fit. Talk to the organization about changing your focus or consider looking for another match.

Enjoy yourself. Most importantly, make sure you’re having fun! The best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and the organization. If you’re not enjoying yourself, ask yourself why. Is it the tasks you’re performing? The people you’re working with? Or are you uncomfortable simply because the situation is new and unfamiliar? Pinpointing what’s bothering you can help you decide how to proceed.

An estimated 62.8 million people, logging 7.9 billion hours volunteered in the USA in 2015. Maybe you can be counted among those volunteering for 2016.

We would love to have you volunteer at Villa Majella. Please click on “About” and then click on “Volunteering” in the drop down menu to view volunteering opportunities. Then contact Kelly Kennedy, Executive Director at (805) 964-1650.

But even if you are not interested in volunteering with us, our hope is that you will bring benefit to your own life and your community by finding someplace to volunteer that is just right for you!

(This article has been adapted from an article found on helpguide.org)

 

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