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Volunteering: More than an act of service

Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.

In 2009, in honor of the terrorist attacks, the national government declared September 11th a national day of service and remembrance. It is a day to remember not only those who lost their lives but how we came together as a nation to grieve for the victims and support survivors and first responders. Today, people around the United States will be organizing baked goods drives, neighborhood revitalization projects, and honoring military personnel, first responders, and their loved ones. In tribute to those who are performing acts of service today, here is a list of 5 facts about the surprising, yet positive consequences of giving back to others.

  1. Volunteering is good for your health. 
    One study showed that people with chronic pain who volunteered experienced alleviation of their pain. Another study also suggested that initiating a new volunteer role in later life is related to decreased progression of disability. Overall, multiple studies have suggested that volunteering has favorable effects on depression, life satisfaction, brain health and well-being. Volunteering may also positively impact health because research suggests that volunteers are more likely to take preventative health measures.
  2. You can make a difference regardless of your age. 
    In 2014 alone, 20.7 million adults over the age of 55 gave about 3.3 billion hours of service to their communities. The most common volunteer activities for older adults were collecting and distributing food, raising funds, and providing management or professional assistance to nonprofits. This demonstrates that both retirees and other older adults are able to use the skills developed over their life to give back to their community.
  3. Volunteering is good for the economy. 
    In South Dakota, the estimated value of an hour of volunteer time is $20.81 and nationwide it’s about $24.14. And those older volunteers mentioned in the second fact? They contributed $75 billion dollars for the US economy last year alone. Additionally, down under, the time donated by volunteers contribute $200 billion dollars to the Australian economy each year.
  4. Volunteering can help with your career. 
    Volunteering is a great opportunity to help you decide what type of job you would like, but it’s also a great opportunity to help get one. One study found that volunteers are 27% more likely to find a job after being unemployed than non-volunteers. This is true across age, race, sex, education and economic conditions, but is strongest in two groups. For those who don’t have a high school diploma, volunteering increases their chances of securing employment by 51%. For those living in rural areas it increase their chances of finding a job by 55%. This is because volunteering can help you gain new skills and build your network.
  5. South Dakota is a leader in this nation of volunteers. 
    A little over 35% of South Dakotans volunteered in 2015, ranking 4th among the 50 states in volunteerism. Collectively as a nation, we also have a strong history of service. Since its conception in 1961, more than 225,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in more than 141 countries and over 1 million Americans have served in AmeriCorps since 1994.

If you would like to be a part of the tradition of giving back to your community, there are dozens of ways for you to do so. SDSU Extension itself offers several opportunities to volunteer through its Master Gardener and TeachSD initiatives. You can call or look online to find local libraries, hospitals, hospices, and animal shelters that need your service.

Finding Volunteer Opportunities

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