Volunteering: Giving back helps you, others

Guest blog by Susan Schoenbeck, Unit 66 Auxiliary member, Arizona

Volunteering can make a difference in your life. By allowing you to meet new people, develop friendships, take on a challenge, and have fun, volunteering provides not just social benefits, but also individual benefits.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, “Perhaps the first and biggest benefit people get from volunteering is the satisfaction of incorporating service into their lives and making a difference in their community and country.”

Green Valley_s ALA Unit 131 President and “Smiles for Veterans” Vice President, Jan Melhorn, presents a $1500 check to Jan Christensen, Executive Director of the “Smiles for Vete
Unit 131 President Jan Melhorn (on the right) and Unit 66 President Jan Christiansen, with a $1,500 check from bake sale proceeds.

This does not mean you need to give money to others. Your time, your attention, offering support or solace, and sharing your wisdom are all ways in which you can give and also recoup rewards for yourself. Handing out hugs even counts. The Dalai Lama has said, “There is deep joy and love in a hug.” Hugging releases chemicals in our bodies that relax our muscles and lowers blood pressure of older adults with hypertension.

Some of the individual health benefits gained by volunteering:

  • Greater life satisfaction: Studies show that people who volunteer have lower rates for depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. As people increase their social interactions, they often gain new support networks. Volunteers often report “the happiness effect.” This is the feel-good sense a person gets because dopamine is released in the brain when you help others. A study at The London School of Economics found that volunteers who spend at least one to two hours a week volunteering gain the most benefit.
  • Better brain functioning: A 2009 John Hopkins study showed an increase in brain functioning connected to volunteering. Volunteers may be at lower risk for memory loss, too.
  • Decreased stress: A volunteer feels a sense of meaning and appreciation, which is calming.
  • Lower mortality rate: Research reveals that people who volunteer (taking into account physical health, age, socioeconomic status, and gender), live longer than those who do not volunteer. The U.S. Census Bureau and Center for Disease Control reports that states with higher volunteer rates have lower incidences of heart disease and mortality. Studies show that people age 60 and older receive greater benefit than younger volunteers.

Like others, you can help in your own backyard. One example is in Arizona. There are two American Legion Auxiliary units outside the Tucson metropolitan area. One is in Green Valley and the other in Sahuarita, Ariz. (Unit/Post 66 and Unit/Post 131). Post members work hand-in-hand to serve The American Legion Family. Their first joint project revolved around providing dental care for local veterans.

Veterans are provided one dental appointment post service, unless 100 percent disabled. This system leaves some veterans without needed care. Mark Jablonka, a veteran of the Vietnam Era (Airforce Security Forces 1973 to 1990), accessed the Smiles for Veterans program co-sponsored by Unit/Post 66 and Unit/Post 131. Low self-esteem and depression accompanied his poor dental status. He hesitated to smile in job interviews.

The Smiles for Veterans program provided free dental treatment for Jablonka. Now, he can smile at people he would not have before. He said, “This program helped me regain my dignity.” Now, he and his employer reap the benefits a smile brings. Jablonka works at Rally Point, a Tucson-based organization wherein veterans help veterans through trying times. Studies show that people who smile more often are likely to live approximately seven years longer than those who do not smile.

Vietnam-era Veteran, Mark J, showing off his new smile.
Mark Jablonka

From helping prepare and serve meals for veterans, to contributing time and baked goods for sales wherein profits go to support programs for veterans, Auxiliary members not only give, but also receive as they contribute while making new friends. Both Auxiliaries support the national American Legion Auxiliary causes together. Friendships are associated with happiness and better health.

Recently, Unit/Post 66 and Unit/Post 131 completed a project to provide clothing for women warriors. The two Auxiliaries look forward to partnering on more clothing drives for women in the years ahead.

 

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