Radwan: The intangible benefits of volunteering

Aziz Radwan, Staff Columnist

Why do some people think volunteering is a waste of energy, money and time? Well, for some, volunteering requires a big undertaking. For others, there are conflicting personal schedules or they may be overwhelmed with school, work and family time. Hence, volunteer work increases stress level. If you hear such reasons, you might be under the impression that volunteering only benefits charities or nonprofit organizations and does not bring any returns to volunteers. Well, I totally disagree with this. Perhaps the idea of working for free has no tangible benefits, but it does have various intangible benefits for volunteers to consider.

First of all, volunteering is a great way to connect with your own local community. You are working with people who have common interests. You get an opportunity to boost your social skills and expand your network. These co-volunteers can also become friends. 

When I first arrived in Cleveland, I was so lonely because I had no friends. I spent my weekends alone in my apartment. It was difficult for me to have no social life, so I thought why not be proactive? Why not take part in volunteering activities? If I wished to make friends, then I needed to go and find them rather than waiting to be friended. After a few weeks of working with my fellow volunteers, I was able to not only understand how volunteering works, but also make new friends. This has indeed changed my social life for the better. 

Volunteering can also improve your self-satisfaction and make you happier. According to Columbia University Professor Stephan Meier, there is evidence that volunteers report better mental health than non-volunteers. This is because volunteers on average are less depressed, happier and therefore more satisfied with their lives compared to those who don’t volunteer. You may criticize Meier’s article as a single one-off study; however, the point is that volunteering is a rewarding experience and can make you feel prouder about yourself because you can make a difference in other people’s lives. 

Leroy Wilson Jr., recipient of the 2016 David F. Leahy Award for Volunteer Excellence by Greater Cleveland Volunteers (GCV), has been described as a super volunteer. He volunteered at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and the Southeast Clergy Meals on Wheels. People speak highly of his volunteering enthusiasm, commitment and positive attitude. When he was asked why he loved volunteering, he replied, “God can give you so much if you open up. I’ve reaped many benefits from volunteering. I can’t give it up. With all my blessings, I feel I have to do this.” 

Think about Leroy’s words. Don’t you think volunteering has made him a happier person, or at least more self-satisfied? What keeps him going as a volunteer-aholic? I’m sure he feels so good about volunteering—a feeling that he may not be able to fully describe it to you. I personally wish him well and hope his name will be remembered by GCV for many years to come. 

A question may arise these days about how to volunteer while following COVID-19 protocols set out by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Is it true that fewer volunteers are needed as we are trying to get through this pandemic? Well, the answer is no—in fact, the opposite is true. More volunteers are needed according to GCV. Jade Jarvis, a reporter at News 5 Cleveland, mentioned in her July 2020 report that GCV was looking for young, healthy people to sort medical supplies, help out at food banks and do chores for seniors. Moreover, GCV has been looking for volunteers to help with bloodmobiles, especially given the increased demand for blood during the pandemic. According to GCV, volunteer roles require a minimal amount of training and each role follows COVID-19 protocols including social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizing. GCV also has other volunteering opportunities that are remote.

In a word, volunteering has a profound effect on your body and mental wellness. Remember when you help people, you help yourself as well. When you make plans for yourself, it is always a good idea to allocate some time for volunteering and community service. Not only can volunteering enrich your resume, but it can also help connect you to more people and bring fulfillment to your life. During this pandemic health crisis, we are all in the same boat. If we wish to get through this crisis faster, then volunteering can definitely help us with that.