When we think of the benefits of volunteering, the first thing that comes to mind is the impact of the volunteer activities on the health of the community and those being served. However, more and more research is demonstrating that we can get as much out of volunteering as the people we are giving our time for or to.
Altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness for us as well as the people we help. Some studies have even shown that giving money away tends to make people happier than spending it on themselves. It provides a sense of accomplishment, increases self confidence and brings fulfillment to life. It also connects you with like-minded individuals, which is great for your mental well-being. It’s estimated older people contributed a total of $8.5 billion to their communities through unpaid and voluntary work in New Zealand. This voluntary contribution is projected to grow to $35 billion by 2051.
Volunteering may be seen as formal, in terms of service provided to a community group, or informal and private, such as care-giving for a family member or neighbour. Both formal volunteering and informal volunteering are a major resource for any community, large or small, because volunteers provide services that are outside the remit of social institutions or could not be otherwise afforded by
individuals and the wider society.
Volunteering may provide older people with opportunities and experiences that they may not otherwise encounter. The options are endless. You could decide to utilise your existing gardening skills to support a local conservation project, help out at a fundraising event for your favourite charity, or support those going through difficult times by answering calls to a helpline – you will have new experiences, meet new people and even learn new skills
If you are looking for something new to try this new year, it could be a good idea to find an organization to get involved with to help your community and reap the health benefits. There are a few things you can do to get started. Check out the following two steps to get started.
Think about what sort of volunteering would work best for you practically. You are likely to make the biggest impact if it fits with our situation, likes and skills. A good place to get started is to think about:
- How much time am I able and willing to give?
- How regularly? E.g. once per week, per month, every other weekend?
- What skills am I willing to offer? (Often just a spare pair of hands or a friendly voice is enough)
- What skills might I like to learn?
- What would I enjoy doing? E.g. something physical, like gardening or sports coaching; something office-based or something out and about.
There are lots of ways to find volunteering opportunities that are a good fit for you. You can look for chances to help out locally in places such as the local library, local papers, and community notice boards or on your council’s website for opportunities in your area. Alternatively, you can check out volunteering websites that provide opportunities and information.