By Marion Brunken
Alexandria, VA – “I loved seeing people for the first time in months safely,” said a volunteer, who shared with us how she felt after her service project. She is one of many who are happy to be out again.
Masks, distancing, lockdown, isolation – COVID-19. Scary times for many. But for over 16 months now, people of all ages and backgrounds volunteered and helped others. These were people who lost their jobs, who were and still are flexible in their jobs, students, and more. Being engaged in our community is good for the community, and it is good for you. Isolation, not seeing people, is difficult and can lead to health issues.
Being engaged and helping others decreases the risk of depression. Research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression. It increases social interaction and builds a support system based on shared interests, both of which have been shown to decrease depression. (Mayo Clinic Health System)
Assisting others by giving time helps people stay physically and mentally active. Activities get you moving and thinking at the same time. One study found that volunteering among adults age 60 and over provided benefits to physical and mental health. Another study found that, in general, volunteers report better physical health than do non-volunteers. Older volunteers experience more significant increases in life satisfaction and positive changes in their perceived health due to volunteering.
Volunteering may reduce stress levels and help you live longer. By enhancing a person’s social networks, volunteering can buffer stress and reduce the risk of disease. In savoring time spent in service to others, you will feel a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect. And after lockdown and distancing, it’s a great way to be with others, talk, share, and listen. You may develop new relationships and new friends and expand your network and practice social skills with others.
With restrictions being lifted, more and more organizations can offer essential services again. Donating time is becoming a bit easier, especially for the age group 65 and older. Our community needs people who can contribute consistent time to help our children and youth. With the school year starting in September, organizations are in the middle of recruiting and training people to become tutors and mentors. In addition, programs like food distribution and providing legal assistance to families and individuals are still needed.
Where to search? Volunteer Alexandria is your local volunteer center and works with many organizations in the City of Alexandria. Our database at www.VolunteerAlexandria.org includes hundreds of opportunities for all ages. It’s an excellent place to start. Service to others is good for body, mind, and soul.