Volunteering: Making a difference in your community – and yourself

Will-H

I started volunteering with SHIM over 10 years ago and have seen and experienced how volunteers and staff make a big difference in the lives of SHIM families. But it is safe to say that I have also benefited greatly through this experience.

There are many ways a volunteer can help SHIM and other organizations. When I first started with SHIM, I helped with administrative tasks and stocked shelves in the food pantry. But what hooked me as a regular volunteer at SHIM was when I started assisting families with getting food on pantry days. This allowed me to get to know some lovely individuals whose lives were often different than mine. Yet, not so different, as we all need respect, love, employment, shelter, laughter, joy, and to care for our families.

As I continued on in the food pantry, I began noticing the impact SHIM was making on so many South Hills residents, families and its volunteers.

It is clear that volunteers make a difference to those they serve. What is often missed is that this work we do to help our neighbors has an effect on us as well. For me personally, volunteering at SHIM has been one of the great blessings in my life. But I am not unique in experiencing this reciprocal effect.

A growing number of research studies show benefit to individuals who volunteer:

  • Volunteering gives us a sense of purpose. Purpose is about how we are able to contribute and be generous, which results in our feeling needed and of value to others. Having a sense of purpose has positive health benefits as well. In the medical journal Circulation, cardiologist Randy Cohen reported that a high sense of purpose in life reduces the risk for all causes of death and also of cardiovascular events.
  • People who volunteer feel better. The United Healthcare 2013 Health and Volunteering Study found that people who volunteer feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. When we do good, we feel good. It’s that simple.
  • Volunteering helps to manage stress. It can be a way to let off steam and do something good outside of our daily hectic schedules.
  • Volunteers feel a stronger connection to their communities. Volunteering can be a space where we connect with individuals in our community and develop relationships with our neighbors.

Not only that, but employers see the benefit as well. If people are feeling healthier because they are volunteering, they will feel better at work. Employers may also find that volunteering employees are less stressed and more engaged at work. Often, a modest investment by an organization to encourage volunteering makes a meaningful impact to the employer, according to the United Healthcare study.

We can’t survive on our own. We need other people to succeed in life. Volunteering makes a difference for others and for the volunteer as well.

Get involved with SHIM today. Learn about their volunteer opportunities at www.shimcares.org.

South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) is a human services organization dedicated to improving the lives of people in need across the South Hills.  This includes working to reduce the devastating effects of suburban poverty among the working poor, unemployed, families, single parents, senior citizens, women, and the high concentration of refugee families in its service area.  SHIM works to identify the most critical needs across the South Hills, then develops and implements effective solutions.  SHIM aims to empower individuals and families to achieve stability and self-sufficiency by offering short-term help with basic needs (food, clothing, utilities) and longer-term support (employment, financial planning, youth programs, family support) to help people build and sustain promising futures.

By Will Hignett, SHIM volunteer