By: Craig Dresang, CEO, Yolo Hospice & CWC
For the past several months, many of us have been social distancing . . . staying at least six feet away from most humans and masking up in public settings. However, the added stress of steering clear of hugs, handshakes and the occasional kiss from grandma has contributed to a shared sense of deep isolation.
Some groups have been hit particularly hard with isolation during the pandemic. The elderly, people who are chronically/seriously ill, and those who lost their jobs face additional layers of anxiety. Some of them have turned to volunteering as a strategy to stay connected to other people, and as a way to become part of something bigger than themselves.
Our volunteers are a good-hearted group. They find joy in helping others. However, they also receive a significant benefit from their volunteerism. Research suggests that volunteers are not just helping the communities they serve. People who volunteer actually experience a boost in their mental health — good news at a time when more than a third of Americans report feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, an international peer-reviewed journal devoted to theoretical and applied advancements in all areas of well-being, researchers examined data from nearly 70,000 subjects. Participants answered survey questions about their volunteering habits and mental health, including their distress and functioning in everyday life. Those who participated in the survey provided feedback every two years for nearly two decades.
Compared to people who did not volunteer, folks who served as unpaid workers in the past year were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better. Additionally, the researchers found that people who volunteered more frequently experienced greater benefits: Those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than participants who volunteered infrequently or not at all.
According to Ricky Lawton, associate director at Simetrica Research Consultancy, volunteering appears to be intrinsically rewarding — when we help others, we tend to experience what researchers call a “warm glow.” In addition, volunteering is likely to help boost a sense of social connection. Older adults in particular, can stay engaged with others long after retirement by volunteering.
Volunteer work can also be a way to build professional skills and try out leadership opportunities, which is especially relevant to young adults. In the study, researchers found that participants ages 16 to 24 and 55 to 74 were especially likely to benefit from volunteering, perhaps because of the opportunity to build social connections and new skills.
For more than 40 years, volunteers have helped define the character and substance of both Yolo Hospice and Citizens Who Care. When these two organizations were just an idea on paper, it was the vision, work, and generosity of community volunteers that breathed life into these community treasures.
Now, each year, nearly 100 goodwill ambassadors support patients through routine visits that may include reading, taking walks, writing letters, bringing music or flowers, documenting stories, and facilitating life reviews. Volunteers also assist caregivers and family members by providing respite support, shopping, light household assistance, and by allowing the caregiver to simply have some time alone. Other volunteers assist with bereavement and children’s programs, community education, fundraising, and administrative work.
Even during a pandemic, volunteers have found ways to support patients by making phone calls, dropping off floral bouquets on doorsteps, and helping families stay connected through ZOOM or other technologies. Garrett Wu, a 21-year-old Yolo Hospice volunteer, says, “Volunteering helps us stay connected to our roots . . . to the founding reason why we exist in the first place.”
It is with deep gratitude that Yolo Hospice and Citizens Who Care acknowledges those who choose volunteer work as their vocation. Current volunteers serving our community include:
Virginia Joyce, MD
Cindy Jo Miller
The Passerini Family
Dawn Myers Purkey
Joey Patrick Villar
Keith von Borstel