Points of Light

April 08, 2014

There are many organizations that provide services to those in need of some form of assistance. These organizations count on the power of volunteers to achieve their mission. These organizations and their volunteers often bring “light’ into a place that can be very dark for some people. If you have time to spare and an interest in helping others, National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, might be a good time to start. During this national recognition week, we acknowledge the gift of volunteering. However, for those who have been long-time volunteers, they might see this week as a time to be thankful for the opportunity to volunteer. They know the great benefits they have reaped from helping others.

We don’t usually think of volunteering as a way to help ourselves. However,  social science research has demonstrated there are personal health benefits gained from volunteering. It can increase your overall sense of well-being; increase your level of happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and sense of control over your life. It may also decrease depression and improve sleep. Volunteering can help you get away from your own personal struggles, such as dealing with a death or divorce as it helps you view your life in a broader context. It can be a great cure for the empty nest blues. There have also been some studies done on volunteering and its effect on chronic pain. Research has shown that volunteering can lessen or alleviate chronic pain. How this works is not known, but some study participants relate that volunteering gives them a sense of connection to others and a purpose for themselves. Perhaps this connection and purpose leaves less time to focus on self.

Volunteering can also help you gain entry to a new profession or field. You might learn new skills or learn about a different profession. Some career counselors recommend volunteering as a first step into workforce re-entry. Many employers will hire a person with volunteer experience over someone who has no volunteer experience.

Interested in volunteering, but don’t know where to start? Try contacting churches, your town’s human services department, senior centers, local civic organizations, libraries, schools, hospitals or nursing homes. There are also several websites where you can explore volunteer opportunities in your community and your area of interest. Points of Light, ( www.pointsoflight.org), Hands On Network (www.handsonnetwork.org ), United Way of Greater New Haven (www.uwgnh.org), and Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org) are all organizations that can help you find volunteer positions in your community.  You can also call InfoLine, 211.  Some volunteer positions sound so interesting that you may wish you had more time to do them all.  

These famous quotes sum up the rewards of volunteering: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; that is to have succeeded.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) “Wherever a man turns, he can find someone who needs him” (Albert Schweitzer) “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia.)   Quinnipiack Valley Health District thanks all those who volunteer and help make the world a better place to live.