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 friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Volunteering can also help protect your mental and physical health.
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. However, volunteering is a two-way street, and 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.
One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. Volunteering also 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.
While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you will be meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests.
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.
Volunteering is good for you mind and body. It provides both mental and physical health. Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. You are serving others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
Volunteering combats depression. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact 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. My husband recently purchased a wrist band pedometer for me which counts steps, calories and activity, and connects to a computer. It was amazing to discover that there is a significant difference in the number of steps I take when I am away from the house volunteering at races on weekends versus a day spent at the house.
Volunteering is good for your health at any age, but it’s especially beneficial in older adults. 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.
Volunteering can advance your career. If you’re 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. If you are considering a new career, volunteering allows you to try out a something new without making a long-term commitment while gaining valuable job skills related to the new potential career path.
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.
Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. Participating in an activity you find meaningful and interesting can be an 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.
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.
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. Would you like to work with people or would you rather work in solitude? 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 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?
There a so many wonderful opportunities to volunteer in Albany and Lee County. There are volunteer opportunities at community theaters, museums and libraries. Service organizations and civic clubs often take on projects that lead to positive changes in the community. The YMCA is a volunteer lead service organization that changes lives and impacts communities throughout the world. Youth organizations, sports teams and after-school programs look for responsible volunteers who wish to make a positive impact on youth. Churches or synagogues are able to serve the community because of the work of dedicated volunteers.
No matter what volunteer opportunity you decide on, get the most out of it. 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. If your volunteer service is fulfilling to you personally, you will have a greater impact on the organization and will be more likely to continue your work. You are needed — so get out there and volunteer!
Mary Ganzel is senior program director at the Albany Area YMCA. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.