Volunteers – from teens to retirees – make a difference in the lives of others and in their communities, but volunteering also can have health benefits.
“Volunteers help others but they may not know they’re also helping themselves,” according to Keresa Kilty, Volunteer Services manager, Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Volunteering helps people who choose to contribute their time to make their community a better place and to help people in need. It’s also proven there are benefits for volunteers, too, that can impact their health, physically and mentally.”
Kilty explained that a strong positive feeling some volunteers get is called the “helper’s high” or “warm glow,” but other benefits include:
- increasing trust in others
- having a sense of purpose
- putting free time to good use
- staying physically and mentally active
- increasing social interaction
- exploring different careers
- reducing stress
- learning valuable skills
- boosting self-confidence
- decreasing risk of depression, especially for older adults
- helping build a support system based on common interests
- discovering the community, which especially benefits people new to the area
- having fun
“Volunteers do important and valued work,” Kilty said. For example, those who volunteer for the Marshfield Clinic Health System help patients, their families and staff members. They do valued work in numerous waiting rooms, pharmacy, nursing units, pediatrics and with home delivered meals, packing COVID-19 test kits, serving as greeters at information desks, wayfinding, providing pet therapy, work in hospital gift shops, staffing coffee carts and taking on clerical duties, all which give volunteers a sense of purpose.
“There are research studies showing benefits of volunteering,” Kilty said. “They illustrate that spending time doing something meaningful like volunteering helps people, no matter their age, feel a sense of purpose and appreciation.”
For example, research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies demonstrates the goodness of volunteering.
Volunteers also find they develop new relationships with volunteer-colleagues. “Volunteers may do similar tasks so it’s a shared activity that can bring them together as ‘colleagues’ and friend,” Kilty said. “They also get to know people with diverse backgrounds which they all can find to be really interesting and fun. ”
Another important benefit is building skills.
“This is especially significant for young volunteers, those who are in high school or college,” she said. “Volunteering can give youths and young adults the chance to learn more about careers and to include volunteer service on resumes. This is especially good for students planning to go to college because colleges look for well-rounded students. Volunteering demonstrates young people’s willingness to help their communities and shows they go above and beyond.”
Though volunteering means you’re not getting paid, some opportunities could give you extensive exposure, perhaps in preparation for employment with compensation.
Volunteering also can be a family activity and a way for parents to teach their children about community and giving back, Kilty said.
If you’re interested in volunteering, Kilty advises looking into different opportunities to find a good fit and then ask questions.
“Knowing more about the service, expectations and time commitment is important,” she said, “because when you have that needed information you can start helping others. Don’t be afraid to make a change, either, especially if the situation doesn’t feel like a good fit.
“And the most valuable assets to bring to a volunteer opportunity are an open mind, willingness to help and a positive attitude.”