Guest Commentary: Why Volunteering Is Good for You

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April is National Volunteer Month. I would like to share some of the reasons I volunteer and the benefits of volunteering.

According to the American Psychological Association, some benefits to volunteering can:

• Lead to a longer life — Who doesn’t want a longer life? The correlation between volunteering and longevity is found to be lasting for people who support others.

• Provide authentic living — We tend to let go of behaviors that flatter our egos for ones that create positive changes in others. There is a tendency to appreciate the strength of the human spirit. We can each do our part to create positive changes in others or our environment.

• Provide a social connection — When we reach out to help others, we let go of our self-interest and become stress-free. It is also believed that social interaction can speed up recovery from sickness and make our immune system stronger.

• Spirituality — We can become aware of human suffering and inequities that exist in society, issues that we need to address with compassion and creativity.

• Social entrepreneurship — Younger people can prove that they can pool their talents, skills and resources to help others. Along the way they learn leadership traits such as financial control, time management, presentation skills, communication and teamwork.

I have volunteered most of my adult life. Fourteen years ago, I began searching for a volunteer job that would take me into retirement, something that would help me stay active and feel like I was contributing and making a difference in someone’s life. I was visiting a local skilled nursing facility to notarize a document for my friend’s mother who was a resident there. While there, I was introduced to two wonderful ladies who were volunteering their time with the residents.  They worked for the Washington State Long-term Care Ombudsman Program. I spent a few minutes asking questions and they gave me a brochure about the program. I applied for the position, was interviewed, selected and attended the training. I continue to love my resident advocacy work!

As you all know, this pandemic has been difficult on everyone, but particularly our residents in long-term care facilities. They have been isolated and suffered from loneliness. They were unable to visit with friends and family for a long period of time. As humans we are not built to be isolated.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, loneliness is even more common in long-term care institutions. And loneliness has many consequences. They include increased risk of depression, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, aggressive behaviors, anxiety and impulsivity.  Some studies found that loneliness is also a risk factor for cognitive decline and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, recurrent stroke, obesity, elevated blood pressure and mortality.

But we can help by giving of ourselves.

For me personally, volunteering “completes me” and commits part of my time and talents to helping others.  It helps me distance myself from selfishness and greed and helps me lead a more authentic lifestyle.

For volunteer ombuds opportunities, please contact me at 360-214-9292. 

Our Long-Term Care Ombuds website address is www.waombudsman.org.

Please consider giving of yourself to others, and for those you who give of themselves by being a volunteer.

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Sheila Johnson Teeter is a Chehalis resident.

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