The benefits of a being a volunteer

Published 4:03 pm Friday, April 28, 2017

You may be wondering, why would there be an article about volunteering in the Health Beat section? We often hear about the many social benefits of volunteering: meeting new people; staying mentally and physically active; learning new skills and/or exercising current skills; exploring interests; filling time; bringing fun to your life; and giving back to your community. While these benefits alone are wonderful reasons to volunteer, you may be surprised to learn that there have also been studies that indicate that volunteering also provides individual health benefits.

In 2007, The Corporation for National & Community Service published a report entitled “The Health Benefits of Volunteering.” This report “documents some of the major findings from studies that look at the relationship between health and volunteering.” The introduction states “Volunteering has long been a common ethic in the United States with people each year giving their time without any expectation of compensation. While these volunteer activities may be performed with the core intention of helping others, there is also a common wisdom that those who give of themselves also receive.”

According to this report, in addition to the social benefits of the positive feeling referred to as “helper’s high,” increased trust in others, and increased social and political participation, some of the potential health benefits associated with volunteering are:

  • Lower rates of mortality.
  • A personal sense of accomplishment which can moderate the loss of a sense of purpose among older adults, improving life satisfaction.
  • Lower levels of depression due to strengthened social ties that protect people from isolation during difficult times.
  • Some individuals suffering from chronic pain experienced declines in their pain intensity and decreased levels of disability and depression when they began to serve as peer volunteers.
  • In a study of individuals with post-coronary artery disease, those who volunteered after their heart attack reported reductions in despair and depression.

In summary, the report’s states “While it is undoubtedly the case that better health leads to continued volunteering, these studies demonstrate that volunteering also leads to improved physical and mental health. Thus they are part of a self-reinforcing cycle.”

In Beaufort County, we are fortunate to have many volunteer opportunities. Your volunteer experience will be more fulfilling if you first identify your personal goals and interests; think about why you want to volunteer as well as what you like to do. Your time is valuable, so it’s important that you enjoy your volunteer experience. Talking with friends and neighbors about their specific volunteer responsibilities and experiences can help you to determine whether or not you feel those settings would be appropriate for you personally.

Each year in April, we celebrate National Volunteer Week. This week is about “inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to engage in their communities.” At Vidant Beaufort Hospital, our volunteers are an essential part of our health care system and play an integral role in enhancing patient engagement and quality care. In 2016, our adult and junior volunteers donated 16,441 hours of service! Our volunteer placement opportunities continue to expand, and as our responsibilities increase, so does our need for volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering at Vidant Beaufort Hospital, please contact the volunteer office at 252-975-4195 to find out more about current openings.

Jan Hamblin is manager of volunteer services at Vidant Beaufort Hospital.