I started volunteering when I was 7. My baby sister refused to stay in the church nursery without me, and thus I became a volunteer.
Today, my baby sister is 30, and I still volunteer in the church nursery. It is such a rewarding experience. For a few hours on a Sunday morning, all my problems fade away and I am able to focus on the moments in front of me.
“Volunteering is a win-win situation,” says Monte Drenner, a licensed mental health counselor in Orlando. “The one who volunteers benefits through altruism, and the others benefit from the service provided.”
But volunteering is not always about going out into the community.
“Someone with late stages of mesothelioma can volunteer from home by baking or making phone calls or advocating for others with cancer,” Drenner said.
Volunteers Do ‘Extraordinary Things’
Last year, 1 in 4 Americans volunteered through an organization and nearly two-thirds of volunteers helped their neighbors, according to an annual report from the Corporation for National and Community Service released in mid-November.
“Each year, millions of Americans do extraordinary things as volunteers; this is America at its best,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). “As we enter the holiday season, we are calling on all citizens to unite in service as a way to unify our country and keep our communities strong.”
Taking Time to Give Back
When I lost my job over the summer, I discovered that more volunteering offers even more benefits.
I started helping at the local Christian radio station during their recent fundraiser, and I have continued helping them with office tasks. Not only does it get me out of the house and keep me busy, but I have made new friends in the process.
According to 2013 research from CNCS, unemployed individuals who volunteer have 27 percent higher odds of finding employment at the end of a year than nonvolunteers.
“I believe that volunteering can benefit anyone, especially those who have so much to give such as someone diagnosed with mesothelioma,” Drenner said. “Volunteering also provides the opportunity to build relationships with others and gain support from them. Serving others through volunteering is also a great way to get someone’s mind on other things and people rather than their diagnosis.”
Is it really realistic to suggest that someone fighting mesothelioma should consider volunteering?
Drenner says yes.
“The answer to this question clearly depends upon how progressed their condition may be,” he said. “Some people can live for several years after their diagnosis. In these situations, it is very beneficial for these individuals to volunteer and provide support to others with the same diagnosis and provide hope for those newly diagnosed.”
Someone serving others in this way sets a really good example to others on how to live effectively even while fighting life-threatening cancer, Drenner said.
Volunteering Benefits You and Your Community
Altogether, Americans volunteered nearly 7.8 billion hours in 2015 — that’s an estimated $184 billion.
According to the CNCS report, volunteers are more likely than nonvolunteers to:
- Talk to neighbors
- Attend community meetings
- Participate in civic organizations
- Discuss politics or local issues with family and friends
- Fix things in the neighborhood
The Volunteering and Civic Life in America research also reported that findings show communities with higher levels of civic engagement are linked to:
- Lower crime rates
- Improved health outcomes for aging adults
- Lower rates of mental illness
- Improved academic outcomes for children
- Improved employment outcomes for job seekers
- Greater community resilience following a disaster
Ideas for Volunteering
According to the report, 34 percent of Americans most frequently volunteer with religious groups, followed closely by education or youth service groups, and social or community groups.
It’s important to remember you don’t have to volunteer for hours every week. Even one hour here and there can make a difference and offer rewards.
The most important thing, Drenner said, is to make sure the volunteer opportunity is a good fit.
“If the volunteer is not comfortable with the environment they are working in or the people they are working with, it will be a negative experience,” Drenner said. “If the experience is deemed negative, they are not likely to continue.
There are several good organizations, such as Volunteer Match, that can help people find a location suitable for them.