Let's Reminisce: The benefits of volunteering

·3 min read

I have served as a volunteer at Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center for more than six years. In that time I have contributed more than 2,500 hours as a member of the WNJ Auxiliary. That may sound like an impressive number, but it pales in comparison to the records of a number of my fellow volunteers who have accumulated more than ten thousand hours.

The COVID pandemic has severely disrupted the work of the WNJ Auxiliary, but the last time we met for recognition of service, the total number of volunteer hours contributed by members over the previous year was more than 18,000. One of our members had accumulated more than 21,500 hours of service. When the total number of years of service for the members of the auxiliary was added up, it surpassed 500 years.

Volunteering has a long history, and over the centuries it has evolved to match the changing times and needs of society. The earliest use of the term was to refer to someone who “volunteered” for military service. But it quickly became applied more broadly to an altruistic activity where an individual or group provides services for no financial or social gain to benefit another person, group or organization.

It is appropriate that most of the discussion about volunteering emphasizes the many ways that volunteers give support that is badly needed. But what I’d like you to think about is the other side of the coin, namely the benefits we volunteers receive as a result of our efforts.

I currently operate the popcorn cart three mornings a week, and there are several ways that I find this volunteer job to be very beneficial. My career was in teaching, which used to be known as one of the “helping professions,” and it is important for me to feel that I can continue to serve as a “helper” to others. I feel appreciated every time someone comments on how nice the popcorn smells, even if they don’t stop to buy some. To be greeted with a smile by those who pass by makes me feel good.

Often the popcorn aroma reminds older people of memories they have about going to the movies in the good old days. One man told me that in his youth he could pay his admission to the movies with six coke bottles, valued at two cents each for the deposit that stores used to charge. Then if he had a nickel, it would buy a bag of popcorn.

My personality is that of an extrovert who enjoys conversations with others and especially the sharing of anecdotes and stories. My volunteer job meets my need for socializing with others and making them feel welcome as they walk into

the hospital. Here’s a checklist of ways that volunteering pays benefits to the givers:

Volunteering connects you to others. This is especially important for retirees who miss the social interaction they used to enjoy in connection with their work environment.

Volunteering is good for your mind and body. Having a regular pattern of some physical exercise and mental stimulation as part of your weekly schedule is very beneficial.

Volunteering brings fun and fulfillment to your life. Several of my fellow volunteers are in their late 80s, but the hours they spend volunteering each week are highlights in their schedule they don’t want to give up.

Volunteering is known not only to be related to happiness but also to increase happiness. Also, giving help is a more important benefit of improved mental health than receiving help. Studies have shown that volunteering can cause a decrease in loneliness for those volunteering.

By the way, every volunteer organization that I know of has openings for new applicants. If you want to enjoy some of the benefits of volunteering, look for a service organization in your area.

Jerry Lincecum
Jerry Lincecum

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories. He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com.

This article originally appeared on Herald Democrat: Let's Reminisce: The benefits of volunteering

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