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Volunteering: what are you waiting for?

This past week, Rosalie Wilson, a 79-year-old dynamo and one of Senior Citizens’ incredible volunteers, won the Herschel V. Jenkins Volunteer of the Year award. This award is given out annually by United Way and HandsOn Savannah to recognize someone who personifies the spirit of volunteering. Rosalie holds three different volunteer “jobs” at SCI, ranging from  helping a home-bound older adult four days a week to delivering meals weekly and making telephone calls three days a week to remind other Meals on Wheels volunteers of their routes for the next day. 

Granted, Rosalie is truly special (hence the award!) but it got me thinking as I listened to her joyful talk at the event that while volunteering is, without a doubt, good for our society, it is also good for us as individuals. It is one of those rare activities that strengthen all four “columns” that support a successful life: Mind, Body, Spirit, and Community. 

Mind: There is no denying that volunteering your time will improve your mind. Rosalie says “it keeps her sharp,” and numerous medical studies, including a recent report from Brown University regarding Meals on Wheels, show that spending time with others makes dramatic improvements to our mental health. Plus, you can’t help learning something from the experience, whether it’s the history of someone’s life or the history of the world if you volunteer as a tutor.

Body: Just getting out of your house improves your body. (Imagine the impact on your muscles if you mowed the grass of your home-bound neighbor!) But one of the great things about volunteering is that there is an opportunity for you regardless of your physical situation. Even if you are the beneficiary of the above-mentioned lawn work, you can be a “friendly caller” to someone else or perhaps make cards to brighten the day of someone in the hospital.

Spirit: It is guaranteed that your spirit will be lifted by the giving of yourself. Everyone who volunteers will tell you that it’s hard to tell who benefits the most…the giver or the receiver. 

Community: Volunteering gives you a double whammy in this column of your life. Not only will you expand your personal community by seeing different areas of town, meeting new people, and trying new things, but it’s a given that you’ll improve the community as a whole with each experience.

Regardless of what chapter of your life you are currently in, volunteering is something that each of us can easily do.  No invitation or special equipment is needed…just you. 

There are many ways to find a volunteer experience that will be right for you. Several organizations, such as SCI and HandsOn Savannah, produce a monthly calendar to offer flexible, no-obligation volunteer opportunities. You can try things once or twice, and if they aren’t the best fit, you can try another project! In addition, many nonprofit organizations have volunteer coordinators who can work with you to help identify an opportunity that you’ll enjoy and that fits your schedule. What’s important is that you try, for merely the act of trying will have a positive impact on your “columns of life.”

Of course, all of us can’t be Rosalie, but we can follow her example. And while you may not receive the Herschel V. Jenkins award, she and others who volunteer will tell you that the true award comes in the form of the smiles they receive from those they have helped and the smiles they put in their heart. So with all of this satisfaction and happiness awaiting you in exchange for very little time and effort, the only question left is, “What are you waiting for?”