Volunteering is Good for Your Health

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If you live in Boston, the holidays are a great time for meeting family and friends for ice skating at Frog Pond, shopping on Newbury Street or enjoying the lights around the Common. But it’s also a time when many local families decide to volunteer together.

“I like to volunteer because it gives me an opportunity to connect with the community in a joyful way,” says Lee Orsky, a physician’s assistant in Boston. She works with Boston Health Care for the Homeless as a parent volunteer/student mentor.

Besides helping people who need it, sharing your time has so many benefits for the volunteer. Most people who volunteer find that it makes them feel really good, which probably explains studies that have found volunteering is good for your health. Did you know people who volunteer have lower rates of depression? They also tend to live longer than people who don’t volunteer, according to a Corporation for National & Community Service report on the health benefits of volunteering.

“Our volunteers tell us… they feel they’re getting more back than they’re giving,” says Patrice Keegan, executive director of Boston Cares, which connects 25,000 people with volunteer opportunities around Boston each year. “I’ve had people volunteer who were in tough financial shape themselves, but it reminds them there are other people who have it worse, so be grateful for whatever goodness we have in our lives.”

Even spending one afternoon helping others can make you feel good, but people who spend 100 hours a year — that’s less than two hours a week — get the biggest boost to their health, studies found.

And volunteering is especially beneficial for mature people 65 and over, since it gets them out of the house and offers them a new a sense of purpose as many leave full-time employment behind.

Whether you’re interested in rounding up toys, serving on a non-profit board or coding a new website, check out these sites to find ways to help others around the holidays and all year long.

VolunteerMatch is a national volunteer-engagement network that posts projects around the world and makes it easy for volunteers to sign up for free. Upcoming local Boston projects range from helping kids with Raising A Reader, interning with the wellness and education services of the Irish International Immigrant Center or helping families who may speak Vietnamese, Spanish or Portuguese learn how to use the Internet.

Hunger Volunteer Connection shares a range of immediate and longer-term ways to improve the lives of the 48 million Americans who are food insecure – meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Local Boston projects include preparing food for critically ill people in Jamaica Plain, teaching older people how to shop for healthy food on a budget or serving dinner to veterans.

Boston Cares is a great place to find opportunities for adults, kids or corporate groups. After paying a membership fee ($40 for a family) and attending a training session, volunteers can go to the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar to sign up. Upcoming projects include stocking donations at an East End food pantry, gardening at the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy and helping job seekers brush up on their interview skills.

“Remember it’s not just Christmas or Thanksgiving — there are 363 other days of the year when people and their friends and family can participate in doing good stuff,” says Keegan.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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