As an organization, Covenant Methodist Senior Services has always held volunteerism in very high regard. We clearly understand the value that volunteering creates for its community, but we also strongly believe in the value that is created for those doing the volunteering. While society tends to think of senior citizens as the benefactors to a lot of volunteerism, we believe that seniors have as much to gain as all of us by actively participating in the volunteerism as well.
Here are some great reasons to volunteer, no matter which age group to which you belong:
- Volunteerism is essential to the United States — Especially during times of financial crisis, the United States needs volunteers in order to keep things running. Presidents have been calling for increased volunteerism since the 1930s, and 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did the same. The Act managed to mobilize more than 135,000 new volunteers in the past year alone, and these 135,000 have managed to help a massive 1.1 MILLION people! Some of the most significant volunteerism included providing skills training and counseling to more than 35,000 unemployed people, 5,400 of whom went on to find new jobs using the skills they learned from volunteers.
- Senior volunteers help bridge the generation gap — Many younger adults already volunteer in all kinds of different organizations, so seniors who choose to do the same help to bridge the generation gap. Cultural differences between current seniors and young people are huge, and include issues such as technology, norms of workplace behavior, and political differences. Young people rarely have the opportunity to work in a team with seniors. Therefore, when seniors choose to volunteer alongside young people, there is an opportunity for each generation to learn something from the other, and for everyone involved to better understand each other.
- Senior volunteers help create future leaders —Access to a senior’s lifetime of experiences can help young people to become better volunteers. Young people can learn from retired volunteers’ skills and experiences, especially from seniors who have performed volunteer or non-profit work throughout their lives.
- Volunteering can help keep our brains sharp as we age —Senior Corps, one of the largest senior programs and part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, provides an online journal as part of its program. A recent article reports on a very exciting new study that demonstrates that senior volunteers’ work in social programs can not only help keep senior citizens’ brains in good shape, but that such volunteerism can actually increase brain function and cognitive abilities. In short, becoming a retired volunteer can actually make you smarter!
- Becoming a retired volunteer is good for our physical health —Another Senior Corps journal article on a UCLA study suggests that productive activities seem to slow many of the consequences of aging adults. Previous scientific studies have come to the same conclusions, but this study specifically suggests that, out of all forms of productive activity, volunteering seems to generate the best results. What’s really interesting is that volunteering is the only productive activity proven to help prevent frailty among seniors!
- Volunteering helps seniors get out of the house and back into their communities — Many seniors spend a whole lot of time at home. In fact, a recent article in the L.A. Times states that seniors currently spend between half and three-quarters of their time awake watching television! This sort of social isolation helps explain why so many of us suffer from depression as we age. Estimates on the frequency of diagnosed depression among senior citizens range from 6 to 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years and older. Senior volunteers spend less time at home and more time in their communities, which helps them make friends and increase their social and support circles.
- Volunteering is rewarding — Another thing that’s well-known to help combat depression in all people is giving to others. Even for those of us that aren’t depressed, becoming a senior volunteer is a rewarding experience that reduces stress and increases happiness. The Corporation for National Community Service notes that many of the health benefits associated with volunteering are due to the sense of accomplishment a we experience when taking the time to help others.
- Volunteering may prolong our lives — The Corporation for National Community Service also reports on a study in which seniors who provide social support for others through volunteering had lower rates or mortality than those who hadn’t. The same national service program notes that, on a larger scale, states with higher volunteer rates among seniors generally have lower mortality rates. This reiterates how significantly volunteering can improve our physical, mental, and emotional well-being as we age.
- Senior volunteers can work around their own schedules — Even very busy, active seniors can become volunteers! Most organizations are more than happy to work with their volunteers’ schedules. Plus, because organizations very much appreciate the skills and experience of seniors, they are often extra-flexible when it comes to retired volunteers.
All in all, become healthier, smarter, and live longer through helping others!
Resident Services Coordinator