A Way to Thrive!
October 02, 2017
By Darla Heath, Meadows Communities Director of Philanthropy & Volunteer Engagement
According to historians, the earliest instances of volunteerism in America began when the colonists formed support systems in order to survive the challenges of a new country. People voluntarily worked together to provide basic needs for all because they realized that no one could overcome hardships alone.
Throughout history, people have recognized needs and have taken responsibility to meet them. Today, volunteers give willingly of their resources, including their time, energy, and talent, for a cause in which they believe. There is no expectation of tangible benefits, but there is still a realization that people cannot overcome hardships or meet community needs without a team — a group of dedicated volunteers.
Studies tell us that helping others is as beneficial for the donor as for the recipient. While personal survival is no longer at the forefront of volunteering as it was to the colonists, there are many intangible benefits of being a volunteer that impact the quality of life. There are proven social, physical, and psychological benefits to being a volunteer. In the book, The Effects of Volunteering on the Volunteer, authors John Wilson and Marc Musick confirm that helping others gives us a feeling of satisfaction from having given to others.
Being part of a volunteer team can expand and strengthen one’s social network. In surveys, volunteers report having increased social contacts and less stress in their life than those who are not involved in volunteering. Personal bonds that form between the volunteer and the recipient of volunteer services can become a life line.
Surveys also show that volunteers are physically healthier than non-volunteers. The positive feeling one receives from giving back helps people maintain good health and reduce stress and depression. A report from the Corporation for National & Community service noted research demonstrating that volunteering leads to better health and those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.
If being physically healthier isn’t motivation to volunteer, research tells us there is a relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness. The London School of Economics found the more people volunteered, the happier they reported being. Recognizing needs and taking on responsibility to fulfill needs increases satisfaction with life as well as one’s self-confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of purpose.
Organizations that recruit volunteers have a variety of roles available from short-term or one-time volunteering, to weekly or monthly assignments. Some may offer ways for you to contribute from home, by utilizing your hobbies and skills, such as sewing activity aprons for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia or making blankets, mittens, or hats for children.
Whether you are nearing retirement, or you are an empty nester with more time available, volunteering for an organization or cause you are passionate about could be your ticket to an enjoyable and fulfilling retirement. With the many health benefits that have been tied to it, volunteering is no longer a way to survive, but a way to thrive!
Meadows offers a full range of senior living options — independent living, Independent Living—Plus!, assisted living, skilled nursing care, memory care, respite care, and Achieve! Wellness and Rehab Therapy — with two locations: Meadows Mennonite Retirement Community in Chenoa and Meadows at Mercy Creek in Normal. To learn more about senior living options at Meadows, visit
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