This past Sunday, my husband and I ran the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fluid station for the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. This is a labor of love for us as we have been involved since the very first marathon. This year was the 24th Flying Pig Marathon! Every year we say this will be the last one we work until we experience the day, and we commit to the next year. This year was especially challenging because we had an awful time finding volunteers to help us. It is a big undertaking and there were days when we thought we would have to withdraw. But, as usually is the case, LLS contacted Xavier University’s women’s soccer team and we had the best help ever! I tried to get a commitment to next year’s race while we were all still feeling the glow of the event. It worked – they said they would be back!
Why am I relaying this story to you? Volunteering was down significantly for all aspects of the race. It is a weekend event with lots of activities and events scheduled. The race could not go on without a large number of volunteers to carry the race day load. It doesn’t look like those not in the know, had no idea there was a scramble to pull all of this together. But I questioned why this was such a problem this year?
U.S. Volunteering Below Pre-Pandemic Levels
Gallup reported at the beginning of 2022 that donations to charitable organizations had rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, however, volunteering remained lower for the same period. While lower today than in recent years, the rate of volunteering has been at its current level in the past, most notably during the Great Recession. (https:news.gallup.com)
According to Gallup, a recovery in volunteering may be more elusive as concerns about COVID-19 exposure and public health safety measures limit Americans’ willingness and ability to perform volunteer work.
The Benefits of Volunteering During COVID-19
COVID brought a new sense of fear of being with others. But as the crisis continued some people began to look at volunteer opportunities as a way to give back; help individuals feel they were doing something at a time of crisis; and enable many to cope with the daily sad accounts they were hearing every day in the media. A review of 33 articles on volunteering during emergencies, exploring motives, suggested that being connected with a cause can be a key driver, alongside regarding it as emotionally cathartic when affected personally, and finding solace from collaborating with others towards the same goal. (Tierney,S. & Mahtani,K. https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/...)
Health Benefits of Volunteering
I researched many articles regarding volunteering on a regular basis and during the pandemic. The same benefits were elaborated in all the articles I read.
1. Decrease your risk of depression: Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system
2. Enjoy a sense of purpose and fulfillment: Increase your self-confidence
3. Stay physically and mentally active: Volunteers actually increased their brain functioning. Volunteer activities get you moving and thinking at the same time.
4. Reduce stress levels: You feel a sense of meaning and appreciation.
5. Experience the ‘Happiness Effect’: You know that feel-good sense you get after a vigorous workout? It comes from a release of Dopamine in the brain. Helping others has the same effect – so the more you volunteer, the happier you become!
6. Find global opportunities: Volunteering can open up opportunities to go abroad, as many organizations and programs put on ‘voluntourism’ trips across the globe. Traveling spurs physical activity and mental planning while providing you different perspectives – literally and figuratively – on life. (https://createthegood.aarp.org/volunteer-ideas/health-benefits.html)
Volunteering Can Help to Prevent Dementia
Of course, there was a study done to support this statement. In March of 2017, a study conducted by the University of Calgary showed that doing regular volunteer work can significantly reduce the development of dementia in seniors. This is an important statement currently. The consequences of companies shutting down and then trying to recover caused a cascade of job losses. The departure of boomers from the workforce at this time has made a mark on the lack of qualified employees in certain industries. But these boomers are left with the future of what’s next! Volunteering can serve as a recovery tool for them as they investigate where their future lies. But it also instills a feeling of ‘mattering’.
Instead of spiraling into depression and increasing their risks for depression and dementia, volunteering opens a wide variety of activities that can stimulate their brains.
“It brings structure to the day, like when we need to be up at seven and at the office for 8:30. It offers social contact with other people outside of our family. It brings us the social status we get with a job title. It makes us feel like we’re making a meaningful contribution to society. And there’s a physical aspect as well, even if it’s just walking from your house to the spot where you do your volunteer work.” (Participants quotes from the University of Calgary study). Volunteering is unique is unique because it creates a wide range of overlapping benefits, including social interaction, physical activity, and a sense of purpose!
Yes, the pandemic has been traumatic for many of us. Volunteering is a means to recover not only for you, but also for the people and the causes you serve.
Giving Back Helps Others and You. Health benefits of volunteering. Retrieved from https://createthegood.aarp.org/volunteer-ideas/health-benefits.html#:~:text=A study released by Johns, Reduce stress levels.
Jones, J. January 11, 2022). U.S. charitable donations rebound; volunteering still down. Retrieved from https://news.gallup/poll/388574/charitable-donations-rebound-volunteering-down.aspx
Tierney,S. & Mahta, K.R. (April 23, 2020). Volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic: What are the potential benefits to people’s well-being? Retrieved from https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/volunteering-during-the-covid-covid-19-pandemic-what-are-the-potential-benefits-to-peoples-well-being/
Volunteering – Caring For Your Brain While Helping Others. Retrieved from https://www.revivebrainsupplement.com/blog/volunteering-caring-for-your-brain-while-helping-others