What bring you along here today? We often ask when volunteer seekers come for the interview which leads to referrals in the community sector.
I’ve been thinking about it for ages. Saw your sign on the street. A friend told me how great he/she found volunteering. Need some work experience. All good reasons. All valid.
And now, come January 2010 and I have just finished reading an article (courtesy NZ Listener December 26 2009) with scientific evidence that tops off the value of volunteering.
We at Volunteer Wellington certainly do find out about these ‘claims’ in dribs and drabs as we follow up our many volunteer seekers. But when the claims are laid out as researched findings from an accumulation of surveys, the benefits are extraordinary.
Let’s start with a comparison though. Take an activity like Christmas shopping. When this study took place conducted by Britain’s University of East London more than half the participants had ‘at risk’ blood pressure after just 75 minutes. Now we will move to the studies done with people who do voluntary work .A 2007 study by the Corporation for National Service in the US discovered that states with high volunteer rates had lower rates of heart disease.
Teenagers who help others in a consistent and usually organised way, have been found to be less likely to become pregnant, drop out of school, abuse drugs and alcohol, suffer from depression or commit suicide. Yet another study examining these positive outcomes from ‘time giving’ reported better health from those who gave time than those who didn’t. Many said the improvements in their health started when they began to volunteer.
When volunteers tell us their stories (refer Once upon a time….stories about volunteers and volunteering) we hear about happier lives; and we also witness the ongoing strengthening of the community sector – the word gets around. However a quote from the Listener article explaining these outcomes in biochemical terms is interesting.
‘Bioethicist Stephen J Post, who runs the Centre for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University in New York, says unselfish actions appear to boost levels of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates, as well as levels of neuro-tranmitters such as dopamine, which are associated with the brain’s pleasure system. Altruism also seems to elevate levels of the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin, which can help combat such stress effects as raised blood pressure and cortisol levels.’
Back now to a real life story about younger generation volunteers and ‘happy givers’ which includes yet another level of positive outcome; and that is about happy relationships between cultures and religions.
Some months ago en route by train to a meeting in Porirua, I overheard a fascinating conversation between three 20 to 25.year-old women. (I know because at one stage they discussed birthdays and ages). Two had New Zealand accents bur Israeli heritage; the third, in traditional Muslim dress, was from Palestine.
Having just been a participant in a volunteer management workshop organised by Volunteer Wellingon which covered key apsects of generational difference, I slipped this group of young women into Generations Y – ages 17 to 29 approximately. Among ‘Ys’ characteristics are self reliance, an interest in leadership but now hierarchies, a focus on results, civic participation, self conficence, altruism. The three talked about gifts they were giving to their families – and they were encouraging their friends to follow their example. Through Oxfam donations can be made, they explained to one another, which enabled water systems or literacy programmes to be established, or even goats and cows to be bought, all for poor villages in Third World countires. Then they light-heartedly talked about how they wished their parents could visit one another in their different home places. Further discussion was about volunteering and contributing to the community.
When I returned to my office I checked our statistics for numbers of volunteer seekers during the past few months from Generation Y. From our total of 1707, 782 – almost 46 per cent – were from that younger age group. In tandem with all the above characteristics it seems there is also an inherent knowledge of the health and happiness outcomes. Let’s spread the word even more and look forward to a bright 2010.
If you want to know how to find out more about volunteering ring Volunteer Wellington on 04 4994572 – or go to our website www.volunteerwellington.org.nz