Does Volunteering Help You Live Longer?

Volunteering may have some hidden benefits, especially for seniors. Here are some organizations looking for help, too.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Ghandi 

According to an analysis published in the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, nearly half of all adult Americans (45%) make one or more resolutions each year. Those self-promises most often made are resolutions about weight, exercise and to stop smoking, along with getting organized and improving money management/debt reduction.

However, based on various research studies conducted over the past two decades an equally smart, or perhaps even better resolution to consider, especially if you are an older person, is making a commitment in 2013 to volunteering.

Gregg E. Rose, director of the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) in Pinellas County  -- a non-profit organization which matches people 55 years of age and older with charities in the community needing volunteers -- points out numerous studies clearly indicate seniors, in particular, tend to reap significant health benefits from volunteering.  

One such research study he refers to, reported on by the New York Times, was a project conducted by an independent, non-profit research and education center – the Buck Institute for Research on Aging (www.buckinstitute.org) -  in Novato, Calif. 

This study as the Times noted, “found a strong benefit to volunteerism, and after controlling for a number of variables, showed that elderly people who volunteered for more than four hours a week were 44 percent less likely to die during the study period.”

The RSVP in Pinellas County, which will celebrate in 2013 its 35th anniversary, has currently nearly 1,100 55-plus-aged volunteers working in over 110 different local not-for-profit venues.  In 2011, our community’s aging seniors through the RSVP program gave more than 222,000 hours in volunteer service, equating to over $4.8 million in in-kind labor donations to more than 110 not-for-profit agencies.  Despite these impressive figures, Rose says there is always a need by all of the charities affiliated with RSVP for greater volunteer support.  In fact, there are a number of agencies he noted, in particular, who are especially in need of volunteers at this time.  Rose’s top ten (in alphabetical order) are: 

• All Children’s Hospital – Specific needs include volunteers for transporting patients and admissions, as well as for clerical assistance, surgical waiting room and gift shop. 

• Bay Pines Veterans Administration Healthcare System - Volunteers are needed at the Information Desk (computer skills required), and as patient escorts, shuttle drivers, and van drivers to transport patients to and from medical appointments. 

• Big Brothers Big Sisters – Volunteers are needed as mentors at selected schools throughout Pinellas County, where they will be matched with individual children. Interaction between a volunteer and child occurs once a week for an hour for the purpose of fun and friendship.  Volunteers are also needed to serve as part-time receptionists or clerical assistants at the West Bay Drive office in Largo.

• Christmas Toy Shop Project – This initiative has a need for volunteers to help with bike and electronic toys repair, sorting, sewing, and cleaning toys for Christmas distribution, as well as some janitorial assistance. This program exists all year long and hence has a need for volunteers anytime of the year to help.

• (HEP) Homeless Emergency Project (formerly Everybody’s Tabernacle) – Based in Clearwater, the agency’s current needs include tutors, mentors, and office assistants for data entry, along with receptionists, counselors and thrift store assistants. 

• Faith in Action of Upper Pinellas – This organization is seeking volunteers to help elderly and disabled persons remain in their homes through various services offered by this charitable endeavor such as: transportation to medical appointments or grocery shopping; light housekeeping, yard work and personal services. 

• Girl Scouts of West Central Florida – Volunteers are needed to serve as troop leaders, group organizers and service unit manager assistants. 

• Gus Stavros Institute/Pinellas Education Foundation – Its immediate need is volunteers who are willing to assist fifth and eight grade students to help them get the most of their hand-on experience in the world of economics education. 

• Neighborly Care Network/Meals On Wheels – Volunteers are needed on a countywide basis for various duties such as: serving lunch or entertaining at a senior dining site; delivering meals to the homebound; helping to implement service at adult day care centers; and providing transportation, telephone assurance or doing clerical volunteering at Neighborly’s administrative offices. 

• Pinellas County Schools – The school system has a countywide need for volunteers who would like the opportunity to give one or two hours of their time weekly as tutors or mentors for students who are struggling in their studies at various schools. 

For further details on any of these volunteer opportunities or other possibilities at the many more organizations served by RSVP of Pinellas County, please call Sandy Devaughn at (727) 327-8690, extension 22.  Or, contact her via e-mail at: sdevaughn@poc-inc.org

To get a more in-depth look at research that has been done in recent decades on just how healthy being a volunteer can be, please visit the Corporation for National and Community Service website: www.nationalservice.gov, where you can download a full report on this issue entitled, The Health Benefits of Volunteering.”






















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