There is a misconception about volunteering.  Many think that volunteering is about giving your time to help an organization or a group with a special project or a need; that the focus of the volunteering is on the group you are helping, and the benefits they receive from the time you give to them.  And that is something worth recognizing. 

A lot of organizations rely on volunteers to help run their day to day operations, organize fundraising events and work on special projects to meet the needs of the population they support.  I would venture to say that every organization in our community relies on volunteers in one way or another and would face struggles if those volunteers did not show up. 

In fact, there are many who are already struggling because they could use more volunteers.   But I think the true benefits of volunteering not only help the organization, but more so the person who is volunteering their time.  Volunteering connects you to other people; people that you might not otherwise meet.  They could become lifelong friends or a new business contact. 

Volunteering is good for your mind and body.  It keeps you sharp and physically fit; it can increase your self-confidence and help combat depression.  It can also provide career experience and teach you valuable job skills.  And in today’s job market, volunteer work is being noticed on resumes.  In a LinkedIn survey, 41% of employers said they considered volunteer work as important as paid work. 

Volunteering can also bring fun and fulfillment to your life.  Every time I have volunteered for something I have felt excited and had a smile on my face.  In the Fall I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre.  While not an all day job, it was an important one, covering the butterfly sanctuary to protect the plants during the winter.  In addition to the great people I met, I had a blast using a staple hammer.  After using that, I never want to use a boring staple gun again.    

I am not alone in thinking that volunteering benefits more than just the organization.  Over the past 20 years there has been a growing body of research that indicates volunteering provides individual health benefits in addition to social benefits. This research, which is presented by the Corporation for National and Community Service in a report titled “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research,” has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.

Some of these findings also indicate that volunteers who devote a “considerable” amount of time to volunteer activities, about 100 hours per year, are most likely to exhibit positive health outcomes.  100 hours per year is less than 2 hours per week.  We all have at least 2 hours per week that we waste on television or meaningless tasks.  So I challenge you to benefit your community and your health by finding 2 hours in your week to volunteer. 

There are more volunteer opportunities in Santa Rosa County than there are people to fill them, so go out and find your volunteer fit.  If you need help, the United Way of Santa Rosa County can help point you in the right direction.