When an empty nest, career change, or retirement leaves you with extra time, you might find that giving back to your community is a passion that rises to the top of your to-do list. Volunteering can help lend a sense of greater purpose to your life while assisting organizations that could greatly benefit from your time and assistance.
Whether you're an avid volunteer or just getting started, there are plenty of reasons to incorporate volunteering into your life.
Why Get Involved?
Research points to the fact that our lifestyle and habits might positively affect our longevity. Perhaps the best-known research on the topic centers around the Blue Zones, places in the world where residents live the healthiest, longest lives. According to Blue Zones residents, one of the keys to longevity is giving back and connecting to your community. Both can provide you with a heightened sense of purpose.
But Blue Zones residents are not the only ones who have made the connection between purpose and well-being. Research around the globe reinforces the idea. For example, Reuters Health reports that older adults who have a sense of purpose are more likely to live longer and less likely to encounter heart, circulatory, and digestive diseases.
Finding purpose in life looks different for everyone, which is what makes your pursuit a personal one. However, giving back through volunteering or finding new ways to feel part of your community is a great place to start.
How to Get Started
You can get involved in your greater community based on your passions, interests, and talents. What works for you might not work for your neighbor, so be sure not to compare your volunteering journey to someone else’s.
An advantage of volunteering is that your schedule can be flexible. You can establish long-term volunteer relationships or smaller commitments based on how much time you have. You can also participate in volunteer roles that suit your interests and talents.
Here are a few ideas that might inspire you to connect with your community.
1. Join a community board or run for office.
Running for office or serving on a community board is an excellent way to give back to your state, city, or homeowner’s association. If you are interested in harnessing your communication skills or have a passion for creating change, visit your city’s website to inquire about how to begin a petition to run for office. If you are more interested in serving on a board, contact that organization to inquire about the process.
If you aren’t quite sure that public office is your next step but you want to be involved politically, try volunteering for your local political party to register voters or support upcoming campaigns. If you prefer to serve in a non-partisan role, volunteering at a polling place can be the perfect option.
2. Find an organization that matches with a hobby or a skill from your career.
There’s nothing better than doing what you love by giving back to an organization you love. As you consider ways to volunteer, make a list of activities you enjoy and determine how you could benefit local organizations with those passions. For example, if you love to garden, read, or cook, you could volunteer for a local gardening club, read to kids at the library, cook meals at the local Ronald McDonald House, or bring a warm meal and a warmer smile to seniors with Meals on Wheels.
You have gained a great deal of experience in your career and throughout your life. Why not use those skills for the greater good? Consider offering your professional expertise pro-bono to a nonprofit organization in your area. Mentoring a young professional can also be rewarding. You can find mentor opportunities by contacting local networking associations in your area. If they don’t have an established mentor program, perhaps volunteer to start one for them.
3. Rally your community to raise money or collect donations.
If you love leading a group or inspiring others to incorporate volunteering into their lives, you might consider starting a drive for goods or money to benefit an organization or movement. For example, perhaps you can collect bags of dog food for a local animal shelter, Thanksgiving meal supplies for your city’s food bank, or new backpacks for kids in local schools. Before you start collecting, contact the organization you want to work with and ask what supplies they need.
You might even be inspired to collect money as a response to crisis relief. Edgewater, a WesleyLife community in West Des Moines, was moved to support the relief efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. The Resident Council spread the word that they were collecting donations, and in just five days, the community collected nearly $20,000! It’s amazing what a community of inspired people can accomplish.
4. Consider travel volunteerism.
An advantage of retiring or working fewer hours is increased opportunity for travel. If you love to travel, consider giving back to the area you will be visiting by finding a travel volunteerism agency. These agencies create itineraries that feature more than just sightseeing—travelers also spend time visiting children in local schools, cleaning up the environment, or serving the area in another capacity.
5. Tag along with a friend.
If you have a friend who volunteers regularly, consider tagging along. You'll share an experience with someone you care about while helping to determine what kind of volunteer experience is right for you.
Many senior living communities also provide volunteer opportunities and other ways to give back to the community throughout the month. Look for opportunities on the event calendar, and if you have a new idea, talk to leadership or a resident-driven council about it!
At WesleyLife, we believe in creating opportunities for people to be involved in our communities and the greater areas around our Communities for Healthy Living. Find a community near you to schedule a tour, hear all about upcoming events, and start (or continue) on your path to volunteerism!