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Giving Thanks By Giving Back

Giving Thanks By Giving Back
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BY MYRA FAYE TURNER

The trend of paying it forward and performing random acts of kindness is not new but has picked up steam thanks to social media. We’ve all read about customers leaving enormous tips for harried waitstaff, patrons paying for other diners and people passing out money to strangers. While these gestures are great, they are transitory and often don’t reach the people in our communities that need help the most. Many of us would like to help but may not have the financial means to do so. There’s an easy way to give back, without spending a dime and that’s by volunteering.

Volunteering is a great way to not only help others but a way to give thanks for our blessings. Every day that we are mentally and physically able to help another person is a day to be thankful.

When some people hear the word volunteer, the image of an AmeriCorp millennial might come to mind. Volunteering is not just for young adults looking to gain experience or travel the world.  Midlife adults are volunteering in droves.

Because of their life experience, many organizations actively seek out this age group to serve as mentors. They are excited to have them share their life experiences and skills. Unlike their younger counterparts, volunteering in midlife is often done by those who seek to pay it forward and help those in need because they have been blessed. Younger volunteers may move on due to graduating from college and starting their lives, while the older generation is more likely to become long-term volunteers. The good news is becoming an active volunteer is beneficial to both the communities they serve and their own physical and emotional well-being.

Benefits of Volunteering

It’s true that when you give, you get something in return. Research has shown and continues to support the premise that volunteering is good for you. In a report published in 2007 by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), people who volunteer have lower mortality and depression rates and greater functional ability than those who don’t volunteer. The study also reported that baby boomers volunteer at a higher rate than younger generations and the more hours per year spent volunteering, the more likely they are to become long-term volunteers. According to CNCS, 18.7 million older adults ( a quarter of whom were age 55 and older), volunteered more than 3 billion hours of community service between 2008-2010.  Furthermore, this age group typically logs more hours than any other age group.

According to a study conducted by United Health Group, Doing Good is Good for You : 2013 Health and Volunteering Study, the benefits of volunteering are plentiful and impact every aspect of a volunteer’s life. Here are some specific findings:

  • Those who volunteer reported feeling better—physically, mentally and emotionally
  • Volunteers are better able to manage stress
  • Volunteers cited feeling a stronger connection to the communities they serve
  • Volunteers who are still in the workforce, reported they feel better at work, including feeling less stress and more engaged with their co-workers
  • 76 % of volunteers said that volunteering made them feel healthier
  • 94 % of volunteers reported an improvement in their mood
  • 78 % of volunteers reported that volunteering lowered their stress levels
  • Approximately one quarter of those surveyed said that volunteering helps them to remain active and helped them forget their own problems and that the very act of helping others helped them to feel better
  • Older adults who suffer from chronic conditions reported that they felt better after volunteering
  • 95 % of respondents said they feel they are helping to make their communities a better place
  • 96 % said volunteering enriches their sense of purpose

Finally, the report found that employees who volunteered were an asset to their company, specifically bringing job skills that proved beneficial to the employer. Some of these skills include marketing, management and finance; all skills learned or improved from a volunteer experience. In addition, volunteering increased the level of important skills like teamwork , time management and collaboration.

With all of these benefits, it seems crazy not to volunteer. Other benefits include gaining experience that can help in your present career or open the door to an encore career. Many volunteers report having a renewed sense of purpose. They are happier and social bonds are created. Some may go on to start their own non-profit or volunteer organization. Women, especially, feeling the effects of an empty nest who feel their kids no longer need them, often find themselves in  a midlife crisis. Volunteering can often help them feel needed again.

Resources

What opportunities are available for those wishing to show their thanks by giving back? You can, of course, look in your own community for opportunities. Schools, churches, libraries,etc. are always looking for people willing to give of their time. You can also go online to find opportunities. Here are a few resources to get you started:

  • If you’re looking to work in the nonprofit area, Volunteer Match and Idealist is the place to start searching for organizations within your community that would welcome your help
  • AARP Experience Corp recruits and trains adults who want to work in education to serve as tutors to  kindergarten through third grade students, helping to improve their reading literacy skills

Myra Faye Turner writes from New Orleans. She is thankful for her only child, Tyler, who turns 15 this year on Thanksgiving Day.

Myra and her son Tyler

Myra and her son Tyler

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