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Make a difference through volunteering

Reading Time: 8 minutes
"by " Elizabeth Lande

Connected Living is taking time to focus on wellness. We have identified great ways to boost your energy levels, options for eating well and finding meaning so you can live life fully. And there are plenty of ways to help others, even from the comfort of your own home.

Volunteering can be as beneficial for the helper as the person in need. Whether through feeling new purpose, or because it helps regulate emotions, there’s plenty of research that shows how by helping others, you often help yourself. Staying involved can help you maintain your mental and physical health. If you are retired, you have more time on your hands to do what you love and to make the world a better place.

Volunteers are healthier, happier and more connected

The numbers tell an interesting story. In a survey of more than 1,200 first-time Foster Grandparents and Senior Companion Volunteers, 78% reported that they felt less depressed after volunteering. In fact, the same study showed that Senior Corps volunteers were also healthier and more connected than those who do not volunteer regularly.¹

Share your experiences and compassion through volunteering

Let's explore ways that you can assist others and expand your horizons while doing good deeds. Whether work with your closest neighbors to help build schools on the other side of the globe or lend a hand at a local library, there's a never-ending need for volunteers. You may not realize it, but you likely have many skills to share.

Most communities have a host of opportunities for people looking to get involved. You can volunteer in nearly limitless ways near your home or across the globe.

Helping those who help others

Do you sew? Homemade masks are in great demand right now. If you have a sewing machine, leftover fabric and string, or even a little yarn, you can quickly make something that everyone needs. Even if you don't sew, you can bake brownies, for example, to give to essential workers. This could be a nurse, someone who works in a grocery store or emergency workers. A little chocolate can brighten a stressed worker's day!

Do you drive? Meals on Wheels needs you!

Meals on Wheels works with more than 5,000 organizations across the United States to help food-insecure seniors. The need is staggering: 7.1 million seniors live in poverty in the U.S. and 9.5 million seniors are at least marginally food insecure.² The need ranges from urban to rural areas and everywhere in between. With their "America, Let's Do Lunch" campaign, Meals on Wheels' volunteers deliver meals to the needy. They also are looking for help with advocacy.

Another option for providing tangible assistance to others is through the Laundry Love program. A nationwide organization, this program lets groups and schools partner with laundromats to launder people's clothes free of charge. 

Volunteering your creative skills makes a difference

Aging doesn’t mean you should let the brain atrophy. Seniors can help one another try new, life-changing hobbies. At senior centers across the country, individuals and organizations offer classes and seminars on everything from computer training to learning to speak a foreign language. If you have a special skill set, you can share it at a senior center, religious organization or library.

Whether you are interested in teaching how to prepare culinary delicacies, mah jongg or line dancing, you can gain confidence while you enrich the lives within your community. Want to improve the environment while you create something useful? You can actually use plastic bags to crochet sleeping mats for the homeless

Are you handy? Habitat for Humanity needs you

Looking for more of a challenge? Do you enjoy being involved in a big, long-term project? Helping through Habitat for Humanity allows you to make a concrete impact. Whether you want to take part in helping build a local home or you are looking for a bit more adventure through a Global Village Travel program with Habitat, you can help the homeless in many ways. Habitat also welcomes groups.

Volunteering with brain power

If building isn’t your thing, perhaps you can offer softer support. Many libraries need help shelving books or running community programs. Some have literacy programs or film and book clubs that you can lead or attend. If you enjoy children, consider reading at story hour. Adults also need help, either improving literacy or as English language learners.

If you don't have a library near you, some elementary schools welcome volunteers to help with library and art programs.

When your presence is a present

You can help the infirmed and ease the burden of family members by volunteering through hospice programs or at hospitals. Options vary widely, but being able to help patients and families in their most desperate times can be very rewarding. Burned-out caregivers, who look after their sick or elderly loved ones, often need a break. It could be as simple as sitting with their loved one so the caregiver can grab a shower, spend time with other family members or go for a walk. For some, “helping” can mean simply listening to a lonely or ill person share their stories. For others, who aren't up to talking, your silent presence is more than enough.

Finding meaning in helping medical causes

Have you lost a family member to an illness? Perhaps you already volunteer for the American Heart Association, bake cookies for a hospital bake sale, attend a Relay for Life event or give blood. If you have hearing loss and time to volunteer, you may be interested in helping at a local Hearing Loss Association of America Walk4Hearing.

Not mobile? No problem!

Even if you can’t leave your home, you can still volunteer. You can send thank you cards to soldiers or take part in a letter-writing campaign for a cause of your choice. Have an issue close to your heart? Call your congressperson or mayor to support a cause that matters to you. 

Are you an animal lover? Use your time to help pets and birds of prey

There are a million ways to help animals. Whether you work through a national organization, like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), or simply drop off extra cans of pet food at your local animal shelter, Fido and Mittens need you. Across the world, you can find humane societies and other animal shelters with a multitude of needs.

But be careful, by spending time at an animal shelter and hearing the lovely purr of a kitten, you run the risk of falling in love and bringing home a new pet.

Would you love a pet but don't want the long-term commitment of adoption? Plenty of people enjoy the short-term benefits of fostering until an animal is ready for adoption. Why foster an animal? It will bring you joy with the flexibility of helping when it works for you. Plus, it means one less pet in a shelter. Definitely a win-win.

Helping wildlife – birds, sea creatures and zebras

Want to help animals without running the risk of adopting a cat or dog in need? What about volunteering at a wild animal rescue?

Just outside Boise, ID lies the World Center for Birds of Prey, part of the Peregrine Fund. Volunteers can help in the gift shop or serve as docents and tour guides. You can financially “adopt a raptor.” Depending on where you live, you can find local groups that work to help birds, not just raptors.

Zoos and natural history museums offer opportunities for people who love animals to share their enthusiasm. These vary by institution, so contact your local zoo for more information.

Making bird watching more than just a hobby

Do you love bird watching? Then The Audubon Society would be great place to volunteer. Bird watchers and conservationists work together across the country to protect and provide resources for birds.

Whether you add a bird feeder, plant trees or bushes that attract particular birds or work with other areas of conservation, you are sure to find an inspiring experience and the opportunity to meet like-minded birders. You’re sure to enjoy the beautiful songs of local birds chirping a tune.

Not just for the wealthy: Senior Corps helps low-income volunteers help change lives

Although they are often underrepresented in traditional volunteering settings, Senior Corps offers a path for seniors to help people in need in their own, sometimes under-served communities. The program includes Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP programs (volunteers conduct safety patrols, renovate homes, protect the environment, tutor and mentor youth, respond to natural disasters and provide other services). There are programs in all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. 

This is just the beginning

Whether you are a music lover who wants to help as a ticket-taker at your local concert hall or you flip slapjacks at your local fire station’s pancake breakfast, the options are endless.

No matter what your preference, by being engaged with your community, you enrich your own life.


¹ https://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/evidenceexchange/SCLS%20-%20One%20Page%20Overview_FINAL.pdf

² https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/docs/default-source/fact-sheets/2019/2019-national/mowa2019factsheets_issue_final.pdf?sfvrsn=b92bb93b_2

 ³ https://www.nationalservice.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/volunteering-helps-keep-seniors-healthy-new-study-suggests