By Katie Cohen, Outreach Coordinator, Volunteer Services,
We all know that helping others and giving back to the community are good reasons to volunteer. But what if you were to learn that by volunteering, you can also gain substantial personal, physical and emotional benefits?
Numerous scientific studies of the effects of volunteering have reached the same conclusions: people of all ages who volunteered were overall happier, experienced less depression, and were in better physical health than their peers who did not engage in volunteer work. In addition, when polled, volunteers themselves recognized their own personal gains from volunteering. Benefits cited by volunteers include a sharpening of interpersonal and communication skills, developing a better overall understanding of people, and the ability to deal effectively and competently in difficult situations—skills that are very useful in everyday life. Volunteering is also a great way to get out, meet people, and make new friends. Furthermore, Dr. James House from the University of Michigan, who studied the positive effects of volunteering, found that doing volunteer work on a regular basis, more than any other activity, dramatically increased life expectancy!
Knowing all of the personal benefits we can reap can inspire more of us to volunteer. But how do you find the volunteer opportunity that’s right for you? Here are some pointers to head you in the right direction:
• First, take time to think about your own skills and interests. Jot them down, and put a star by those that are your passion, whether it be photography, reading, cooking, singing, etc.
• Next, list the groups or individuals that would most likely benefit from your skills and passions. For example, if you love children, becoming a Jewish Big Brother or Big Sister or volunteering in some capacity in a school may be a good choice.
• Also think about the kinds of people whose company you most enjoy. For example, do you like being around seniors or teenagers, conversing one-on-one or doing group activities?
• Once you have identified your three or four top interests and the groups/individuals that may benefit from them, consider telephoning or emailing the organizations, businesses, schools, synagogues or other institutions that may appeal to you. Ask to speak to their volunteer coordinator. Explain your skills and interests and ask if they have a volunteer opportunity that would be a good fit for you.
• Visit some of the many websites that have listings and descriptions of volunteer opportunities in your community, and that can help match you with an appropriate volunteer job. Such pertinent information as skills and experience needed, days and times of availability, and length of commitment are often included in the volunteer description.
• Don’t forget “word of mouth.” Ask your friends to tell about what volunteer work they are doing. Networking with friends, family, and acquaintances can often be an effective way to learn about volunteer opportunities.
• After finding a volunteer opportunity, be realistic. Consider at first accepting a volunteer assignment on a short term basis to try it out. If the fit is good, then go ahead and commit for a longer term.
Don’t hesitate any longer. Become a volunteer. While you are doing something you love, you will not only be helping others, but also benefiting yourself.
To learn how you can enhance your value to your employer through volunteering, read our “Work Wonders” blog here.
By Katie Cohen, Outreach Coordinator, Volunteer Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
Volunteers are being recognized and celebrated during the month of April. For information on volunteer opportunities at Jewish Community Services, visit http://www.jcsbaltimore.org/volunteers.