Get Social – and Volunteer!

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Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year to volunteer – studies show the surprising social – and physical – benefits of “giving back.’ For volunteers like Cathy Lonas and Bob O’Neill, it’s almost a mantra: I get back so much more than I give!  

Physical Benefits of Volunteering

Take physical health.  A four-year Carnegie Mellon University study of 1,164 adults ages of 51 to 91 from across the U.S. showed that volunteers were 40 percent less likely to develop hypertension as compared to non-volunteers.

The type of volunteering didn’t matter; only the time spent was a factor according to Dr. Rodlescia Sneed. Volunteer time reported by study subjects was 200 hours a year.

Volunteering Tipping Point

A study led by Canada’s Rotman Research Institute showed that about two hours a week of volunteering appears to be the “sweet spot” that reaps benefits.

Another interesting wrinkle: There appears to be a tipping point after which greater benefits no longer accrue. A study led by Canada’s Rotman Research Institute showed that about two hours a week of volunteering appears to be the “sweet spot” for benefits like better overall health, fewer functional limitations, fewer depression symptoms, greater longevity…and even fewer hip fractures among seniors who volunteer.

How to Volunteer

Finding volunteer opportunities is as easy as entering  “Volunteer opportunities near ____” with the name of your city or town. Even towns with populations fewer than 6,000 offer opportunities.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the choices. The challenge is aligning your interests, skills, available time and preferences. Ask yourself:

  • Do I want to work with adults, children or animals?
  • What causes matter most to me?
  • What skills do I have that I enjoy using?
  • How much time, energy and effort am I willing to expend? Will I need a car? Work at night?
  • Do I want to be “behind the scenes” or at the forefront?

Remote Volunteering – with Us!

Something new: remote volunteering has become commonplace. Senior Planet’s Cathy Lonas and Bob O’Neill are examples.

Cathy Lonas

When locations began re-opening, Cathy Lonas (at left) joined volunteers who made the good news calls from home to let fellow Senior Planet members know that in-person classes were resuming. It was gratifying work. “I had some wonderful conversation with members!” says Lonas.

Bob O’Neill

After retiring from a 45-years career on Wall Street, Bob O’Neill (at right) literally stumbled past a Senior Planet center, walked in to find out what it was all about – and signed up for a class. “It was on geneaology – and it was wonderful,” he says.

More classes followed and when there was a call for volunteers, O’Neill offered to help at the center to ensure that everything ran smoothly.

Then came the lockdowns. Senior Planet went remote – and so did O’Neill.

As a remote co-host, O’Neill is a vital part of Senior Planet’s exercise and meditation classes. He relishes the work. What makes it so special is the comparison to his previous work experience.

“On Wall Street your title, the money you make and who you know is what matters — you don’t matter.” And at Senior Planet?  “It’s the reverse. There are no titles, money is irrelevant and you matter. In fact, that’s all that matters: You!” he says.

“There was no community on Wall Street’s trading floor,” he adds. “None. Your position in the pecking order mattered; you didn’t matter.” And at Senior Planet?  “It’s the reverse. You matter. We really get to know each other and each person matters. It’s a real community.”

“Because 75% of the attendees are regulars, we’re a community that really gets to know each other..”

O’Neill notes that what was true when people met in person at Senior Planet – a sense of community – remains true in the remote classes. “Because 75% of the attendees are regulars, we’re a community that really gets to know each other,” he says. “We look forward to the pre- and post- class conversations as much as we look forward to the classes.”

Some get to know each other in person, too. O’Neill enjoys recounting that two attendees in Hawaii learned that they lived mere blocks from each other, prompting plans for an in-person meeting.

O’Neill has likewise enjoyed dinners with Senior Planet friends met in classes, all immensely gratifying experiences. So it’s no surprise that mindful of his Wall Street decades, he repeats the volunteers’ mantra – but with an additional twist. “I get back much more than I give: I get back my own humanity.

If you us are interested in volunteering in-person at one of our Centers, you can apply here

 If you are interested in virtual volunteer opportunities, you can become a Senior Planet Supporter by making a donation of any amount. Once you are a Supporter, you will be sent virtual volunteer opportunities throughout the year (minimum once per quarter). Click here to donate and dive deeper into the Senior Planet experience!

Nona Aguilar is an award-winning writer of numerous magazine articles and two books. She has also edited four specialty business newsletter publications. Her work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, Family Circle and Cosmopolitan, and in The Business Owner.

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