“Volunteering is associated with better physical and mental health,” says Eric S. Kim, research scientist at Harvard University. Kim found that volunteers were not only more satisfied with their lives and reported greater happiness, but they were often more physically active and experienced fewer illnesses.
“We know that stress, depression, and anger all have negative effects on the body, especially with regard to the risk of cardiovascular disease,” insists Dr. Kim. He explained that volunteers often have a strong sense of purpose. Kim found research correlations between those who found a sense of purpose in their lives and healthier hearts.
A similar report about one’s sense of purpose and the cardiovascular system pooled findings from 10 different studies (Cohen, Bavishi, & Rozanski; 2016). Results from the meta-analysis revealed that volunteers expressed a high sense of purpose and lower risks of heart attacks or strokes.
Find organizations in your community that need your help at one of these online websites:
- VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) connects organizations with people who want to share specific interests and expertise. Opportunities include helping in soup kitchens, assisting at crisis centers, offering tutoring services, playing sports and games with children and teens, assisting immigrants and refugees, offering interpretation services, as well as working with computers and technology, and many more ways to share your gifts and talents.
- The Corporation for National and Community Service (www.nationalservice.gov) is a federal agency that invests in nonprofit local community organizations that mentor and tutor at-risk youth, rebuild communities struck by natural disasters, help seniors live independently, and support veterans and military families.
- Experience Corps (www.aarp.org/experience-corps) recruits and trains adults to tutor children from kindergarten through third grade who are struggling to read. They work in lower-income districts in 22 cities throughout the country.
Check out these organizations in your community if you want to be a volunteers:
- Animal Rescue Shelters The National Humane Society, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and PetFinder can help you find opportunities to help out at local shelters or foster pets who need temporary homes.
- National Parks Explore opportunities to volunteer at sites maintained by the National Park Service.
- Food Pantries Check out FoodPantries.org to find a pantry that needs help preparing and distributing meals to children and adults who are hungry.
- Habitat for Humanity Habitat for Humanity offers volunteer opportunities for those who have – or want to learn – experience in home repair and building maintenance. A Brush With Kindness campaign and the Women Build programs help women learn construction skills.
- Local Libraries Libraries need help organizing shelves, assisting patrons, and preparing for public events, such as author signings and book fairs. Do you have a specific talent or area of expertise? Offer a free workshop. Display your art in a local library gallery. Contact your local library about volunteer opportunities.
- Art Museums Many local galleries and museums welcome volunteers and offer training to be guides. Volunteers also assist museums with their family programs and children’s activities.
- YMCA & YWCA You can help children and adults by coaching a sports team or being a tutor at a local YMCA or YWCA (now called The Y). Check your local YMCA’s website or visit a club to learn more about many different volunteer opportunities.
- Retirement Homes Senior citizens who live at retirement homes are eager to see new faces. Contact the program director at a retirement center near you to find out how they can use your gifts and talents. Call the home director to see if you can visit patients on a regular basis.
- American Red Cross The American Red Cross offers an extensive list of volunteer opportunities. Your skills may make you a good fit for grant writing, performing clerical tasks, or assisting at volunteer sites throughout the country.
- The Salvation Army More than three million people of all ages volunteered their time, talents, and resources to assist The Salvation Army‘s work. Volunteers help fulfill their U.S. commitment to “Doing the Most Good” in communities across the country. Contact your local Salvation Army to see what opportunities are available.
Do you want to volunteer, but can’t leave your house? Check out these opportunities to help others from your home:
- Volunteer to be an Online Ambassador with Ark of Hope for Children.
- Volunteer to Translate with Translators without Borders.
- Give well-deserved Treats for Troops through Soldiers Angels Treats for Troops.
- Be an online emotional support person at 7 Cups.
- Help kids in need when you organize an online fundraiser for Operation Warm.
- Make a global difference with the United Nations.
- Lend your eyes to solve tasks for blind and low vision people. Visit Be My Eyes.
- Sew emotional support blankets for Binky Patrol.
- Proofread ebooks for Project Gutenberg.
- Track bird populations with eBird.
- Answer texts for those in crisis using active listening and collaborative problem solving with Crisis Text Line.
- Crochet or knit afghan squares that will help build blankets for babies and adults. Send them to Warm Up America.
- Record audiobooks for Librivox.
- Transcribe historical documents for the Smithsonian.
- Send a card, letter or note once a week to someone undergoing chemotherapy. Apply at Chemo Angels.
- Share your voice and help drive innovation in voice technology through VocaliD.
- Provide learning and encouragement to children around the world via Skype and the Granny Cloud website.
- Test, evaluate or develop elements of the National Park Service’s online presence.
- Raise money in a virtual world with The American Cancer Society and Second Life.
- Develop video games to help App to Succeed teach youth in need how to make good financial decisions.
- Train others in technology to help overcome poverty with Right Here at Home.
- Share social media posts and important announcements for Operation Warm.
- Help Harvard researchers learn the best ways to break down stereotypes by taking tests with Project Implicit.
Elizabeth Andrews, Welsh education and health advocate, once said, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.” Helen Keller added, “The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.”
Volunteer. It’s good for your heart.
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