Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't even have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve... You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love...

--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

             Volunteers are an essential part of any community.  Their service in fields from health and human services to literacy and education, provides a multitude of benefits to the agencies and towns that they serve in.  But what is the benefit to the individual volunteer?  What keeps these service warriors coming back, and why should you become one?

            Some of the benefits of service are obvious; volunteering is a wonderful way to meet people and make friends with people who have similar interests and passions.  In fact, there are several organizations dedicated to the idea of “volunteering dating”; including the group Single Volunteers, Inc. , whose chapters organize volunteer outings for single men and women who are looking to find romance.  Their website: http://www.singlevolunteers.org/, has a list of all the individual chapters and information about how to join.

          Families may also find that community service is an excellent way to connect with one another, while also doing good work.  This time will also foster a generation of people who will be committed volunteers in the future. Children who are introduced to volunteerism as a positive and enjoyable activity at an early age are more likely to continue to serve later in life.  They also may find greater success in their future professional and personal lives because of these early experiences.1

           Volunteers can also use their service as a way to improve their professional skills.  People, both young and old, can use their volunteer experiences to supplement their resumes or learn a skill that they might not other have an opportunity to work on.  In these challenging economic times, gaining an advantage in the competitive job market is invaluable.2

             Social capital, or one's network of people who can provide access to resources such as jobs, is an important asset.3 Volunteer work increases a person's social capital by creating opportunities for people to meet potential employers or references.  These connections are especially positive because of the inherent beneficial nature of volunteer work.

            Community service can also be very enjoyable!  Many volunteers give their time to projects or causes that represent one of their personal interests.  For example, an animal lover can find that the time she spends fosters kittens for a local animal shelter is the most fun part of her day.  Or someone who spends most of his time in an office may decide that taking a week to travel to work outside in a disaster relief effort is one of the best vacations he's ever taken.

            Other than these obvious benefits, there are many under-appreciated factors to volunteering.  Recent studies have suggested that volunteering can benefit an individual's health and happiness: “In general, people with greater well-being invest more hours in volunteer service work..., and volunteer work promotes positive well-being...”4  This cyclical nature explains why people who volunteer early on in life continue to volunteer throughout the rest of their lives. 

             Older adults may find that volunteer work is especially beneficial to their health.  According to Yunqing Li from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior: “Volunteerism offers the opportunity for people to remain socially engaged throughout the life course. Volunteer work in later life is an important expression of active social engagement and one of the essential components of (a theory of) successful aging.”  Volunteer work may improve the mental health and therefore, the overall health of many senior citizens.5

             All of these reasons, and more, are why you should consider making community service a part of your life.  SouthCoast Serves is here to facilitate your volunteer experience, along with our partners at the United Way and their Volunteer Solutions website, which can help you find an interesting and fulfilling volunteer position.  Thank you for all that you can and will do to assist those in need.

 

Citations

1. Thomas Janoski, March Musick, John Wilson; “Being Volunteered? The Impact of Social Participation and Pro-Social Attitudes on Volunteering;” Sociological Forum; Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 495-519

2. Wendy Liu and Jennifer Aaker; “The Happiness of Giving: The Time‐Ask Effect;” The Journal of Consumer Research; Vol. 35, No. 3 (October 2008), pp. 543-557

3. Alejandro Portes; “The Two Meanings of Social Capital;” Sociological Forum; Vol. 15, No. 1 (Mar., 2000), pp. 1-12

4. Peggy A. Thoits and Lyndi N. Hewitt; “Volunteer Work and Well-Being;” Journal of Health and Social Behavior; Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jun., 2001), pp. 115-131

5. Yunqing Li and Kenneth F. Ferraro; “Volunteering and Depression in Later Life: Social Benefit or Selection Processes?”; Journal of Health and Social Behavior; Vol. 46, No. 1 (Mar., 2005), pp. 68-84