The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 2, 2010

Linda McIntosh: Volunteering brings plenty of benefits

— Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has ...” Those who volunteer have the ability to do just that.

In a 2009 survey of baby boomers, one out of four would like to spend their retirement volunteering. Could it be because of all the benefits that come with volunteering?

For many, volunteering means meeting new people and getting out and being active in life. For others, it’s the enjoyment and feeling of doing something good for someone else—paying it forward, as they say, brings its own rewards. For other seniors, volunteering means learning a new skill, as many volunteer opportunities provide a chance for additional education and training.

Freeman Health System Coordinator of Senior Services and Freeman Advantage Dee Timi said seniors who volunteer are in demand and are also sought after for their opinions and views.

“Everyone benefits from their life experiences,” Timi said. “For example, we seek seniors to participate in our advisory committees and value their input.”  

When you volunteer, you maintain a sense of community by being involved and active, reaching out to others. You also feel an increase in your own sense of worth when you contribute to your community and others. Volunteering helps expand your network of friends and increases opportunities for social communication.

Many seniors also enjoy the added benefit of peer recognition. Volunteer appreciation events provide opportunities for older adults to visit with peers and receive acknowledgement for the time and effort they provide as volunteers.  

Recent studies have demonstrated evidence that volunteering produces significant overall health benefits. These include living longer, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and less incidence of heart disease.

In fact, a Duke University study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression—two factors linked to mortality in patients with postcoronary artery disease. Another study found that individuals over age 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours experienced less decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, lower levels of depression, and greater longevity. The health benefits of volunteering are numerous.

In addition, the socialization that volunteering provides has shown to have a positive effect on a senior’s mental health. Another study found that those who volunteered reported higher levels of happiness, life-satisfaction, and self-esteem and a heightened sense of control over their lives and physical health.

Ozark Center psychiatrist  Michael Collins said you can “prevent dementia by being physically active and staying mentally sharp — learn something every day.” Simply volunteering at least a few hours per week can bring meaningful benefits to a person’s body and mind.  

For older adults, staying healthy and active in community life by participating in volunteer activities provides social opportunities, continuing education, and many health benefits. Our community has many needs, which offer numerous opportunities for you to share your time and talents with others. Just look around, and sign up to volunteer today!

Linda McIntosh, Freeman Volunteer Programs Supervisor, works with volunteers 15 years of age and older. She also coordinates Freeman Auxiliary fundraising activities that benefit a number of community programs.