There’s Never Been a Better Time to Volunteer

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Volunteer

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If you knew you could do something that would help you feel better physically and mentally while helping others at the same time, would you do it?
You have probably volunteered in many capacities during your life – in your neighborhood, at your children’s school, at your place of worship and in your community. With your life and work experience, you still have so much to give. In addition to helping others, you can also gain many benefits from helping others.

Serving as a volunteer takes you away from your normal routine and stretches you both mentally and physically. According to a study by the Corporation of National and Community Service (CNCS), adults who regularly volunteer have fewer bouts of depression and maintain a greater sense of self-worth. In addition, the study found that volunteers feel less isolated and more part of their communities.

Volunteering also plays a big role in how satisfied we are with our lives. A study of American adults, by the London School of Economics found that the more people volunteered, the happier they seemed to be. In fact, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7 percent among survey respondents who volunteered monthly and 12 percent for those who volunteered every two to four weeks when compared with people who did not volunteer. The study found that participants who volunteered with religious organizations reported the greatest “happy” results.
How to get started. First, think about your interests and your skills and try to combine them with where there is a need for help. What you do as a volunteer really depends on you. Some people miss their careers and want to volunteer in that capacity. Others use volunteering during retirement as a way to explore a hobby or interest they didn’t have as much time to do when they were working full-time. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Look for a need. Take a look at your local newspaper or community website. You won’t have to look too long before you see requests for help on various projects. At holiday time, you could be a bell ringer or a gift wrapper. In warmer months, you could help with children’s day camp events or with outdoor charity events. Another place to look for opportunities is the Senior Corps. Visit
http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps for ideas.

Share your knowledge. Do you have a passion for reading? Many community libraries use volunteer tutors for their literacy programs for children and adults. There is often a demand for people who speak more than one language to help people learn English as a second language.

Seniors also can be valuable as volunteers for charitable organizations that help teach financial planning to young adults and to first-time homeowners. Your skills may be valuable at tax time. You could work directly with low-income families or seniors by volunteering to prepare their federal and state income tax returns.

The IRS also sponsors two national programs that pairs volunteer tax preparers to work with taxpayers age 60 and over who need help filing their returns. Visit http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/IRS-Tax-Volunteers for more information.
Support the arts. If you love theater, music or ballet, why not consider volunteering for those organizations? Many arts organizations depend on volunteers for hosting events, serving as ushers and helping with fundraising efforts. Visit your favorite group’s website or call to ask for the volunteer coordinator.

Mentor a child. Do you love kids? There are many ways you can make a difference in the life of a child. If you are worried that you may not be able to keep up with a young child physically, there are other opportunities. The iCouldBe program, for instance, matches adult mentors with young people in a completely online program. You can share your career experiences and advice with a young person from any computer. Visit http://www.icouldbe.org.

Take care of animals. If you miss the companionship of a pet or simply love being around animals, there are many opportunities for helping animals. Contact your local animal shelter. Volunteer jobs may include anything from answering the phones, to dog walking, to foster parenting a pet. This website can point you in the right direction: http://theshelterpetproject.org/shelters
Help a small business owner. Do you run a successful small business? You can mentor someone who is starting down that road by volunteering with SCORE. Visit https://www.score.org/volunteer. Another organization that matches mentors with mentees is http://www.mentoring.org/.

Still stumped? The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) can help. It only takes a few minutes to fill out the online form at http://www.aarp.org/giving-back/info-09-2012/volunteer-community-service-charity.html. The AARP will then help you find volunteer opportunities that match your needs.

Remember you don’t have to target volunteer programs aimed specifically for seniors. You can find opportunities everywhere. Don’t forget soup kitchens, food banks and clothing drives as good ways to give back. Local museums often look for volunteers as serve as docents and to staff special events.
One of the best benefits of volunteering is the new people you will meet and the new challenges you will face. That CNCS report found that people who volunteer have greater functional abilities and lower mortality rates than those people who do not volunteer. The 2014 report also found that these benefits are especially apparent for older adults who regularly volunteer.
It’s never too late to share your time and talents with others and to experience the benefits of volunteering. Find a way you can make a difference today.

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