Color & Control:

Volunteering & mentoring…all part of successful aging

Have you thought about volunteering? Most community organizations could certainly appreciate a little help now and then or, on a regular basis. Not only will your efforts strengthen your community, but you will personally benefit too. Now that’s a win-win!

Here are a few reasons why volunteering should be included in everyone’s graceful aging and well-being strategies:

That feel good feeling 
Often when we retire and have finished raising children we have time on our hands. At times, our sense of purpose may be gone, and we might be left wonder what to do with our days. Simply put volunteering to help others can re-charge our batteries, give us great sense of joy and a new more zestful meaning in our lives. Feeling fulfilled and with renewed purpose delivers positive impacts. It lifts our spirits and delivers improved emotional health and well-being according to research.

On my own no more
Loneliness and isolation are real for many older adults. Often our families are busy and even though they visit or call enough and many of our family and friends have died, leaving us alone, often bored, and not motivated. Volunteering puts us out there again with others. It’s a chance to connect with new friend and given that we’re part of a larger cause provides satisfaction and a way to give back. Helping out also fills our days with more meaningful activities. 

Increasing social engagement
Staying socially engaged as we get older often takes work and planning. We are social creatures by nature, and we are meant to connect with others. Being socially engaged can offer lasting friendships and connections to others, while being a buffer against stress, depression, and sadness. Volunteering gives you a chance to see more of your community, see what’s going on and participate in improvements and learn how things are done.

Volunteering often brings us together with people of different ages that helps break down the social barriers and incorrect assumptions of ageism. Inter-generational friendship and connections allows people to learn from each other, develop meaningful relationships while supporting mutual understanding and respect. For example, younger people can help older adults to use new technologies while older adults can share their life experiences and wisdom with younger people. 

Improving mental health
When your physically and mentally active research suggests you’ll be sharper and more alert. That could translate into improved brain/cognitive functions in areas such problem solving, focus and attention to detail, memory, learning, decision making, and concentration. Some studies have shown that the risks of having dementia or Alzheimer’s disease are reduced when older adults are engaged in mentally meaningful activities. Volunteerism also contributes to an optimistic outlook on life with greater happiness, overall well-being and a heightened sense of self-worth. 

Developing new skills
Volunteering often brings us the opportunity to be bold and discover things that are different. Its a chance to practice kindness and a way to develop new skills. Being a lifelong learner benefits our bodies, minds and spirits by being active and curious. It also pushes limits which builds confidence and self-esteem when we try and master a new skill. Once you have learned a new skill, you will be proud of yourself for having the courage to break out of your comfort zone and contribute to society in ways that you could have never imagined doing. 

Getting more physical exercise 
When you’re involved in various activities on behalf of a volunteer organization you may find yourself moving about more. For many, this increases how much physical activity we get. Whether you are directing traffic at the drive-through food bank, sorting clothes at the local thrift store or chasing after dogs at the pet shelter, one thing is for sure, you are getting more exercise than by just staying at home. More exercise contributes to muscle maintenance, physical fitness and will help keep you on your quest for independent living and better health.

Building strong family bonds
Finding new and interesting activities to do with grandchildren, adult kids and our partners can sometimes be a challenge. When you volunteer to fundraise, participate in community activities together and give back you are setting a good example, while enjoying the benefits of inter-generational family life. Imagine how much fun it would be to spend time with your grand-children working together in a community garden, hosting a charity sale, doing a walkathon. How could life be better than that?

Rekindling hobbies, skills and interests
Has it been years since you have picked up a tennis racket or fixed an old car? Perhaps you once enjoyed gardening, playing a musical instrument or baking. Why not research volunteer opportunities where you can “restart” an old hobby and bring it back into your life as a mentor, teacher or participant?

Contributing social capital 
Actively working to make stronger, better communities gives volunteers pride in their efforts and a real sense of belonging. Seniors who volunteer contribute to making our communities stronger and more resilient and often set the tone for years to come. It is fair to say that without volunteers, our society would function poorly and millions of people, animals and our environment would suffer. 

Out of the house
Volunteerism often requires us to get out of our home, get smartened up and reconnect with society. Being outside our homes is a great way to stay connected to society and see what is happening in the world around us. When we volunteer, we also want to look our best. This encourages to “clean up our acts” by having showers, washing our hair and putting on new or clean clothes. We may even want to get our hair done professionally to look our best. Volunteering stops us from becoming hermits.  

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an Internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

5 tips to decide where to volunteer:

Looking to find a place to help? Take time to research, explore ideas and investigate opportunities. Things to keep in mind:

• Canadian Charities Directorate: Confirm their charity and financial status, agency/services/charities-giving/charities/contact-charities-directorate.html

• Not for profits: Make sure your chosen organization is legitimately registered 

Purpose: Read their mission statement, values and vision on their website. Speak with existing volunteers to see what they have to say. 

• Look for a good fit: Find an opportunity that works well with your schedule, skills, physical abilities, and possible limitations.

• Commitment: Make sure you understand the organizations expectations. How often and for how long do they need you. How much training is required. Will their expectations work for you.

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