At Civic Champs, we see the amazing work of volunteers (and the organizations for which they volunteer) year round, but we’d be remiss not put special focus on them for National Volunteer Week.
As need has increased during the pandemic, so has the need for volunteers, and, given the social and economic ramifications of Covid-19, the need will continue even after we slowly and safely return to in- person gatherings in our communities. The needs exacerbated by the pandemic have caused a higher demand for those willing to help.
In this piece we will explore why volunteering may be just what you need to reconnect with your community and quell post pandemic anxiety and isolation. We know volunteering is great for you, but how could it be the key to (re)adaptation in the aftermath of Covid-19? Read on.
Volunteering can help you learn more about the community in which you live.
This reason has a few subcategories. Volunteering for an organization can help you familiarize yourself with where various demographics actually reside in your city. Civic Champs’ Bloomington based volunteer initiative, Helping Hands, offers food delivery from food pantries to community members in need in various neighborhoods. Completing the routes we provide through Helping Hands offers a full tour of various Bloomington communities. Although deliveries are contactless, as Helping Hands coordinators, we get to see the folks living in each neighborhood, the homes in which they live, and take in the particularities of each neighborhood’s culture and community. This type of community exploration and engagement can be achieved while volunteering with any type of local nonprofit whether that be a food pantry, animal shelter, or mentorship initiative. Relearning how to navigate your city will be so important as places reopen. It’s definitely easy to forget considering it’s been over a year since some people have returned to school and work.
Just like volunteering can help you learn your way around a city, it can also help you learn about the biggest social issues your city is dealing with. Becoming familiar with the most active nonprofits in your city allows you to more deeply connect with efforts to make your city a better, more liveable, more equitable place. A lot of community organizations collaborate in some way, so if you offer your time for one, you’re likely to learn about several others, discovering how things like affordable housing, food deserts, poverty, and youth programs all connect. You might even meet a new friend while on site at a Habitat for Humanity house or while sorting and passing out food at a food bank.
Volunteering can make you feel better physically and mentally
Experts have connected volunteering to lower rates of depression. In fact, BioMed Central (BMC) Public Health has noted a 4.30% decrease in depression and an 8.54% increase in mental health from additional participation in voluntary services. Given that the US Census Bureau reported a 31% increase in people surveyed who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression over 2020, taking action now to remedy mental health issues is critical.
On a different note, volunteering has the potential to positively impact your physical and social health in significant ways. If you are tired of your home gym and want to break a sweat while doing good; volunteering is an awesome way to go. Between moving around heavy boxes of food, putting in time on the ground at a community garden, or building houses, volunteering is actually a great way to bake exercise and movement into your weekly schedule. Again, BioMed Central (BMC) Public Health shows that volunteering corresponds with a 9.08% increase in physical health.
In-person interaction with people outside of your household is important to remedy feelings of isolation and entrapment. Volunteering can be a great way to see up to an 11.11% increase in social health (according to BMC). Demonstrating kindness toward others is clinically proven to increase self-esteem and feelings of purpose in the long term in addition to preventing burn-out (which is becoming increasingly ubiquitous as the work from home economy persists).
Volunteering can help you learn new skills and/or put untouched skills to use.
Volunteerism creates environments to work on communication skills and multiple areas of personal growth. Most volunteer opportunities require teamwork with folks with a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences. Volunteer settings allow you to connect with community members outside of your immediate circle of friends and family, which can facilitate empathy skills, deepen knowledge about the lives of the people that live around you, and strengthen your sense of belonging. Consider a critical skill that is built over time like time management. Many volunteer tasks allow you to cultivate time management skills and resourcefulness. Food pantries close at specific times, recipients are typically only available for part of the day, and the houses built for Habitat for Humanity have a finish date. New skills can then be applied in work and school environments and vice versa as you continue to grow as a volunteer, a student, or a professional.
Volunteering can help you become more in touch with yourself.
Volunteering has the potential to ground you during these times of uncertainty. Observing real need within a community can help you achieve much needed perspective. You might find that you enjoy volunteering so much that you want to integrate it into your regular schedule as a place to find meaning outside of work or school. It’s possible that your volunteer work might help you discover what you actually want to spend time doing and help you clarify the next step in your career. After seeing the ongoings of your community, you might be newly impassioned by a particular cause. Your values might be refreshed or changed. Participating in the improvement of your community through direct action helps clarify what you care about most.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be done alone, either. Make a date out of a volunteer opportunity. Reunite with your friends for the first time for a good cause. Hopefully a new outlook on life (as we return to normalcy) will allow for similar changes surrounding the idea of volunteerism. Make it a part of the rhythm of your life. Who knows what doors it may open up?