2019-01-02 / Columns

Volunteering to help others is one resolution you can definitely keep

STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
MARLA MEYERS
Executive Director, Jewish Family & Children’s Service

Get in shape. Stop procrastinating. Meet new people. Earn more money.

As we begin 2019, these phrases are ones we will see for several months in magazines, blogs, and newspapers. These are some of the most common goals people set for themselves at the beginning of each secular New Year. We set these goals, also known as resolutions, because we aim to become the best version of ourselves, and when better to try than a fresh, new year?

One problem with all these goals is that they set some lofty, abstract benchmark of success. If we don’t lose that last 15 pounds or don’t have five new friends by February, we lose all motivation because in our minds we have failed. But what if we begin setting resolutions that don’t rely on the success or failure archetype of traditional resolutions?

We have the power to set more public-spirited commitments every January 1. Aiming to serve our fellow man through volunteering is a great way to put ourselves on the path to a better self, since volunteering provides numerous benefits. The obvious benefit is to those who are directly impacted by volunteerism, but the rewards are also ultimately felt by the volunteers themselves.

Volunteering connects us and strengthens our ties to the community. Through shared activities such as planting a neighborhood garden or volunteering at Café Europa for Holocaust Survivors, you will be making new friends and contacts who have common interests. This helps build a support network, as well as exposing you to neighborhood resources and new activities you may not have known about prior to your volunteer experience.

Volunteering is good for your overall health—mental and physical. The social aspect of volunteer activities helps combat depression, stress, and anxiety. Connecting with other people on a regular basis has a profound effect on your psychological wellbeing. More pointedly, volunteering makes you happy. Researchers have proven that giving to others increases feelings of contentment. Just the same as giving a gift to someone during the holidays or a birthday makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, so can the gift of our time to those in need. Doing good for others also increases self-confidence. There is something to be said for knowing you are making a difference. Knowing this will instill a sense of pride and identity, leading to a more positive view of your life and future goals.

Most volunteer roles require some form of physical activity. Therefore, those who volunteer on a regular basis tend to be more active, especially older adults, which then leads to performing everyday tasks with more ease. More obviously, if you are engaging in a volunteer event that is physical, such as sorting in the JFCS food pantry, you are doing your body good. This is especially beneficial to individuals with disabilities or other health conditions that may restrict them from the typical physical activities such as a gym session.

Remember that resolution to earn more money? Volunteering can help advance your career when you seek out opportunities to get experience in your area of interest. Many volunteer roles come with some form of training. Even though volunteer work is done for free, it does not mean the skills you learn are basic or unnecessary in other areas of your career. Additionally, even if you are not looking to change careers, you may find yourself in a role that leads you down the path of alternate employment. Volunteering is a great way to explore your interests, be they personal or professional.

The benefits of volunteering are not limited to those mentioned above. Everyone is sure to find a personal twist to what he or she gets from volunteering. Even two volunteers performing the same task will appreciate a different facet of that same experience. At Jewish Family and Children’s Service we see the happiness and contentment on the faces of our beloved and valuable volunteers. JFCS clients are the direct beneficiaries of the tireless efforts of our volunteers, without whom we could not sustain the critical programs and services we provide in the South Jersey region.

If you are looking to begin your journey to self-development, you can explore volunteer opportunities with JFCS at https://jfcssnj.org/volunteer-opportunities. Or think about joining us on January 20 for Community Mitzvah Day 2019, as our volunteers assist with a variety of mitzvah projects. Visit https://jfcssnj.org/bite-size-opportunities for more information.

No matter which way you decide to participate as a volunteer, know that you will be a better person for it.

 mmeyers@jfedsnj.org

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