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Volunteers get more than they give

Health, longevity, satisfaction, fulfillment…for starters

Created date

August 23rd, 2011

A University of Michigan psychology study has found that older adults who volunteer regularly live longer than those who do not. The study followed 423 older couples for a period of five years. The psychologists who led the study say the findings indicate that people who get help from volunteers don t benefit as much as the volunteers themselves. Eileen Ziegler didn t need a study to tell her the benefits of volunteering; she lives them. As a volunteer for almost ten different clubs and organizations both at Cedar Crest, the Pompton Plains community where she lives, and in the surrounding area, Eileen has nearly made a full-time job out of volunteering.

Satisfaction and flexibility

I love the volunteering that I do, and I get as much as I give, Eileen says. It s a social activity. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it. No newcomer to volunteering, Eileen spent many unpaid hours coordinating activities for her former community in Parsippany, N.J. When she made the decision to leave her large four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house behind and move to a home where she could have more peace of mind and less maintenance, Eileen sought out volunteer opportunities. By choosing to live in a community of peers with more than 180 clubs, groups, and activities, Eileen had no trouble finding volunteer opportunities upon moving to Cedar Crest in November 2009. On campus, she helps with the Treasure Shop (Cedar Crest s thrift shop), local food bank donations, performing arts center, and the welcoming committee for new neighbors. Off campus, she continues to aid at the Alzheimer s Association caregiver fairs and support groups, as well as at the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, in Morris Plains. Aside from getting great satisfaction, Eileen says she enjoys volunteering for the flexibility it affords. I could go out and get a part-time job, but I don t want the kind of commitment that a job would require. What I ve chosen here allows me the flexibility I desire.

Energy and appreciation

Eileen s fellow Cedar Crest neighbor and volunteer Claire Landsman did not volunteer much during her 40-year career as a teacher. But upon moving from Montclair, N.J., to Cedar Crest, I just started doing things, and the more I did, the more I liked it, she says. Claire and her husband, Jerry, partner in many of their volunteer efforts, from teaching tai chi and Elderhostel classes at Cedar Crest to selling tickets and ushering for performances in the performing arts center to maintaining the informational bulletin boards around campus, among others. In her personal time, Claire enjoys reading, doing jig-saw puzzles and crosswords, and attending different educational classes offered by the community. In a community like Cedar Crest, where people have the time to give and the energy to do so, the reasons for volunteering vary as much as the people. Whatever the reason, the common outcomes include increased health and longevity and feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment.

Volunteering dos and don ts

Follow these dos and don ts to get (and give) the most from your volunteer experience. Do . . . Know yourself. Before signing up to volunteer, ask yourself what you want from the experience. Maybe you want to meet new people or learn or build upon a skill. Consider how much time you can offer. Put all of these into a list of goals and use them to help you find the volunteer opportunities that fit you best. Know your organization. Find out how many volunteers the organization works on a typical day, who typically volunteers, what special skills you need, what type of work you will do, time frame, and location. Prepare yourself. Attend orientation meetings, take training classes, review volunteer policies and rules, and understand what the organization expects. Be considerate. If you sign up, show up on time and ready to work. Volunteer projects are often designed based on the number of people who sign up and on a specific time slot. Arriving late or not showing up at all could mean that day s job doesn t get finished or other volunteers have to work longer hours to complete the work originally assigned to you. Expect satisfaction. You volunteer because you want to give back and to make a difference. But what you ll get back in return is priceless personal satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment. Don t . . . Over-commit. It s easy to get caught up in the volunteer spirit and agree to help in every way possible. But over-committing often leads to under-performing. Only take on tasks that you can complete in a timely and quality fashion. Expect to be the boss. As in a real job setting, volunteers must first work hard and prove themselves before taking on more responsibility or leading a specific project. Work hard to demonstrate your capacity for more responsibility. Wait for a group. You don t have to be a part of a group to volunteer. A lot of organizations can use your time and talents as an individual.