Question of the Week

May 15, 2006

Many people volunteer because they really enjoy what they are doing. Others think that volunteer work will look good on a job application or help them get into college, but few consider that by helping others they can also put themselves on the path to better health.

"When you do good things for others, you do good things for your health. You may also be doing good things for the health of your community, research now shows. An Ontario study on the health benefits of volunteering reveals that it not only improves self-esteem and combats social isolation, but also reduces the impact of stress on the body, lowering blood pressure and even bolstering the immune system."
Canadian Health Network

To be specific...

"Participants identified the following key benefits of volunteer work: skill development, coping with isolation, the chance to 'give back' to the community, to meet people, to enhance job prospects, personal growth, personal empowerment and to gain a new perspective on one's own problems.
"In addition, volunteering was reported to enhance self-esteem through the 'good feelings' derived from helping others and feeling worthwhile and needed.
"Volunteering was described as distracting one from one's aches and pains, providing motivation for rehabilitation and activity, helping overcome social isolation, and providing a sense of community and belonging."

While volunteering, teens have the opportunity to improve their own health, but also learn about -- and assist with -- various health care careers.

"The U-M [University of Michigan] Health System Teen Volunteer Program is a great place for young people to learn about different health care careers, develop new skills and serve people in need. Teens 16 years of age and older are invited to explore opportunities in Hospitality Services, Information Services, Retail Operations or Gifts of Art, Physical Therapy, Pediatrics and Pharmacy among others."

Different hospitals offer different opportunities, and even have different age requirements.

"Sarasota Memorial Hospital [Florida] has special volunteer opportunities for teens, ages 14-18. Teens are assigned to the departments of Child Care, Central Transport, Central Service, Gift Shop, as well as serving at the Waldemere Service, where they deliver flowers, mail, and run errands for the nursing staff."

Volunteer opportunities exist all over the country for those who are interested in working in health care, but many additional opportunities exist for teens (and pre-teens) with other interests, as well.

"Service Learning Program: This program provides individual youths, ages 12-15, a long-term volunteer opportunity at the Oregon Humane Society. While in the shelter, Service Learning Volunteers participate in basic animal care and other shelter activities while under the supervision of the Service Learning Coordinator. Youths are encouraged to give four hours of service monthly and must be able to squat, twist, bend, lift and/or stand for long periods of time. This program requires that children be 12-15 years of age and have current medical insurance. ... Children 11 years old and under can contact the Education Department ... to find out about opportunities available to them at the shelter."

While the many benefits of volunteering (for both the volunteer and those who the volunteer is assisting) go far beyond what can be recorded on an application, they also apply to more than just teens.

"Older adults who volunteer in troubled urban schools not only improve the educational experience of children, but realize meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. ... 'Physical, cognitive, and social activity increased in volunteers, suggesting potential for Experience Corps and similar programs to improve health for an aging population, while simultaneously improving educational outcomes for children,' she said. 'It potentially could have great social impact if taken to a large scale.' "

Questions of the Week:
What skills and interests do you have that you could use to help others? What opportunities are available where you live? How could you encourage your peers, friends, and family members to get involved with a volunteer project? How could the community benefit from their involvement? How could they personally benefit?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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