Monday, April 12, 2021

Volunteer: More health, happiness, jobs

| April 6, 2021 1:00 AM

Not that we need an excuse, but if you know someone who could use an impetus to take that extra step, consider sharing this one: Volunteering is good for your health.

It also leads to more jobs, more happiness, and may even extend your life.

April is National Volunteer Month. A slew of research supports the many benefits of volunteering, strongly suggesting the return on investment is well worth the trade of time and resources.

According to the most recent statistics (2018) from Corporation for National and Community Service — a U.S. government agency — 77.4 million Americans volunteer 6.9 billion hours annually, at an estimated value of $167 billion.

Beyond supplying the essential foundation for so many nonprofit and community organizations society relies upon, volunteers get a wealth of benefits in exchange.

Volunteers live longer. A review of 40 published studies in the Aug. 22, 2013, issue of BMC Public Health concluded regular volunteers — around 27 percent of U.S. adults — generally have a 20 percent lower risk of death than do non-volunteers (after controlling for economic, gender, age, education and other factors). The review also found volunteering extended life more than having strong social support does.

That includes retirees. The Americans Changing Lives survey correlated volunteering with better health in adults over 60, both physical functioning and lower levels of depression (Morrow-Howell, 2003).

The more, the better. Adults over age 70 who volunteered at least 100 hours in years prior had less decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, as well as lower levels of depression and mortality (Lum and Lightfoot, 2005).

Volunteers are happier. The same BMC Public Health meta study connected adult volunteers of all ages with lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced feelings of well-being.

Probably due to improved self-image. Research correlates a higher sense of personal accomplishment (Herzog 1998), of purpose (Greenfield and Marks, 2004), and life satisfaction (Harlow, 1996) with volunteering. These results are oft repeated in other studies, and surveys continually find volunteering boosts self-esteem, in turn linked to lower depression and anxiety.

Most choose religion or sports. CNCS data show church organizations represent the biggest share of volunteering (32 percent), followed by community and school sports (25 percent), and education/youth services (19 percent). Civic, health, animals, and environment represent 3 to 6 percent each.

Volunteers get more jobs. The CNCS report indicated volunteers are 27 percent more likely to find a job. That factor was doubled for rural job seekers (55 percent better odds) and non-high school graduates (51 percent better). Those numbers have been relatively stable since 2003.

The jobs correlation illustrates the practical benefits of volunteering, beyond impressing an employer. Volunteering increases one’s social network, broadens connections with a wider variety of people, and increases skill sets. It also creates a positive impression of the volunteer in the minds of others, including colleagues, friends and partners.

Plus it’s simply nice to feel needed.

CNCS and WalletHub studies indicate Utah is consistently the state with the highest rate of volunteers per capita. Idaho’s is also high, generally staying in the top 10.

With so many varied opportunities to volunteer locally, finding a match of personal interests, availability and passions is relatively easy. Most area charities and nonprofits are reported throughout the year in this newspaper. If you can’t find one, shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to help.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email