Giving Back This Holiday Season: The Benefits of Volunteering All Year Long
As we head into the holiday season, our thoughts often turn to helping those less fortunate than ourselves. While dropping a few coins in a Salvation Army red kettle or donating canned goods to a food pantry are very worthy acts, one of the greatest gifts that you can bestow is that of your time.
The Gift: Benefits to the Community
As a volunteer, you offer a lifetime rich with skills and experiences that may be leveraged to contribute to your community in a variety of ways. Tutoring or mentoring a younger generation is one way to contribute, and there are specific organizations for matching seniors with at-risk and disadvantaged youths. For example, in the Foster Grandparent Program you can volunteer at day care centers or schools to provide one-on-one care and attention to children in your local community.
Investing your free time to aid other seniors is another way that you can help, and there are several programs that offer support to elderly community members who need assistance with day-to-day household tasks, transportation, and errands.
Even a hug can be a donation in the right environment, as recent headlines have reported that some hospitals across the nation have instituted cuddling programs that invite vetted volunteers to suit up in sanitized uniforms and hold newborn babies when parents and nurses are unavailable to do so. Since these programs aren’t yet common, your hug can go just as far at a local animal shelter where hands-on volunteers are always welcome to offer cuddles.
The Return: Benefits to You
Volunteerism is beneficial to more than the assistance recipients. Research has shown that volunteering can do just as much good, if not more, for the volunteer. Some of the observed positive effects include a renewed sense of purpose and control over one’s life, reduced rates of depression and isolation, and increased emotional stability. The National Institute on Aging has reported that participating in purposeful engagements like volunteering can lower the risk of chronic health issues and improve longevity.
One study showed that three-fourths of U.S. seniors with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even dementia have reported that staying active through volunteering has helped them successfully manage these conditions.
Volunteering also offers the chance to explore personal interests that may have been brushed aside earlier in life in favor of work or family responsibilities. A love of animals, teaching, or gardening may all be tapped into to improve your community while indulging your personal passions.
If you are interested in gifting your time this holiday season, or anytime throughout the year, there are many ways to find available opportunities. VolunteerMatch.org is a website that matches individuals’ interests with local volunteer positions, or you may contact local libraries, hospitals, or animal shelters directly to learn of their areas of need. However you choose to contribute, you will be giving a gift, to both the recipient and yourself, that is truly priceless.
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