SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: All about the 'helper's high'

Maureen Wendt

Trends in volunteering show that: Nationally, 109 million people volunteer; corporate volunteering is up – 81% of companies surveyed connect volunteering to their overall business strategies; and 28 million senior volunteers gave approximately 5 billion hours of time annually, which is a value of $71.2 billion to non-profit organizations and causes in the United States.

In a recent volunteerism survey, 44% of American adults volunteered their time in some way with an organization. Traditionally, women are more likely to volunteer than men. Today’s volunteers are aware of the value of their contributions and they are selective about where they invest their time and energy.

People volunteer for various reasons, some of which are more obvious than others. The tradition has long been that volunteering is a form of charity and the best volunteering does involve the desire to help others. It is OK to want to benefit yourself from volunteering, too.

Studies show that giving back through volunteering can have numerous health benefits. The Corporation for National and Community Service released a report on the health benefits of volunteering, which showed that, "States with higher volunteer rates also have better health and that there is a significant statistical relationship between states with higher volunteer rates and lower incidents of mortality and heart disease."

Numerous scientific studies show that volunteering can result in significant mental and physical health benefits. Helping can bring on a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, often called a "helper's high" that releases the body's natural painkiller, endorphins, thus reversing feelings of depression, hostility and stress. Reducing stress can have such health benefits as reducing obesity, sleeplessness, acid stomach, backache, headache and more, according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

Here are a few more happy revelations about volunteerism:

— The greater the frequency of volunteering, the greater the health benefits.

— Personal contact with the people being helped is important.

— “Helper's high” results most from helping people we don't know.

— Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining or group attendance is the “happiness equivalent” of getting a college degree or more than doubling your income.

To find the right opportunity for you, select an organization that supports issues that matter to you. What type of things are you good at and like to do? What time do you have available? Volunteer opportunities are available whether you have one day to donate or are looking for ongoing regularly scheduled assignments. Choose situations to work with a group of people if that is what you are comfortable with. Opportunities are also available if you prefer to work independently. It is important to volunteer with an organization that can match what you are looking for from your volunteer experience. If you are looking for a “helper’s high” or to just want to help, make time to volunteer.

To everyone who already gives of your time so generously, thank you on behalf of all non-profit organizations! Keep up the good work, you are so needed.

For those of you who are thinking about volunteering, The Dale Association is currently in need of volunteers. Various opportunities are open all year long; volunteer coordinator Sherry Livergood will work with you to find just the right fit for the time you have available, your talents and your needs. The volunteer opportunities that she is currently looking to fill include:

Drivers — Driving is a one- to two-hour commitment for short, local routes. Drivers are needed Monday through Friday during the day to drive Dale vans. Transportation is an important linkage for members to be able to get from home to the senior center for activities. One or two hours of your time can make a big impact on somebody else getting out of the house.

Memory Minders — Volunteer on Mondays and/or Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a social day program that supports participants with mild memory loss. Volunteers assist with art projects, music, games, cooking and baking, and other activities that boost memory and socialization.

For more details about a variety of volunteer opportunities, please contact Sherry Livergood at 433-1886, extension 109, or sherry.livergood@daleassociation.com.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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