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Volunteers prefer giving over gifts

Charlestown residents use 'thank-you' breakfast as opportunity to help area kids

Created date

June 25th, 2013

At a complimentary breakfast designed to say thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who live at Charlestown, the attendees instead took the opportunity to once again give back by making summer survival packs for Riverview Elementary School students. Nearly 300 residents hand-decorated 110 cotton drawstring backpacks and filled them with crayons, sidewalk chalk, balls, jump ropes, Play-Doh, old-fashioned wooden peg games, and a ball-cup toss for children participating in the school s Lansdowne summer program.

Giving spirit

Since 2010, Charlestown volunteers have participated in service projects to benefit organizations in the greater community in lieu of receiving awards or gifts during National Volunteer Week. While our volunteers appreciate being recognized in these ways, they never want all of the fuss and expense that goes along with a big event, says Sarah Chrzanowski, volunteer coordinator at Charlestown. We came up with a way to celebrate by allowing volunteers to do what they do best: give back! It s a win-win because the volunteers get to participate in a meaningful outreach that benefits the community, and they also get to celebrate their accomplishments, laugh, chat, and have a good time. Volunteer Jean Corley helped make the bags. There are hundreds of volunteers here who put in hundreds of hours, says Jean. It s really incredible when you stop to think about it. Most of the clubs and organizations at Charlestown wouldn t exist without volunteers. That is true of Charlestown s Treasure Chest, a resident-run flea market where Jean volunteers pricing, packing, and selling items. Jean also volunteers with the staff appreciation fund committee and assists the Charlestown sales office with open houses and luncheons. I hope the kids who receive these bags will feel like there are people in the world who care about them, want them to succeed, and wish them well, says Jean. Volunteers were able to personalize the bags with fabric spray paint and hand-written notes of encouragement, which were tied onto the gift bags. Supplies for the gift bags were purchased with donations and money raised from a bake sale held by volunteers last fall. Each volunteer put his or her personal touch on the bag they created, says Chrzanowski. I think they enjoyed making them as much as the kids will who receive them.

Power of love

While most volunteers know the good feelings that come from their good deeds, research shows that the benefits of volunteering, especially for older Americans, go well beyond just feeling good; they actually help you stay healthy and may even prolong your life. In 2007, the Corporation for National and Community Service summarized their findings from multiple studies conducted on the health benefits of volunteering. The research consistently showed that those who volunteer experience greater longevity, lower rates of depression, a lower incidence of heart disease, and greater functional ability. One study in particular found that volunteering among adults 60 and older provided physical and mental health benefits that were not found in 30 and 40 year olds who still worked full time due in part to the fact that volunteer activities by older individuals are more likely to provide them with a purposeful social role. In 2012, residents of Charlestown logged 209,954 hours of volunteer service in partnerships with organizations like the Maryland Food Bank, Our Daily Bread, and educational programs with Riverview Elementary School. Chrzanowski says she finds Charlestown residents volunteer for a variety of reasons. Some of them volunteer to gain a sense of purpose; others volunteer to make a difference or to give back and connect with the community, she says. As for Jean, she sees volunteering as a way to pay it back for all of the blessings she has received in her life. Participating in something like this is just one small way I can help someone else, says Jean. You never know; by doing something that seems small, you may actually be planting the seeds that will grow and impact a child s life forever.

Americans give back

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 64.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2011 and September 2012. The median number of hours spent on volunteer activities in that same year ranged from a low of 32 hours for those 25 to 34 years old to a high of 90 hours for volunteers age 65 and over.