Life after retirement opens up new avenues to explore interests that may not have been possible with the responsibilities of a full-time job. One activity that can provide us an outlet to give back to the community in addition to a plethora of associated health benefits is volunteering. By filling our time with meaningful experiences, we can discover a new purpose in life or rekindle old passions that can contribute to our mental and physical wellbeing.
- Lower blood pressure
Volunteer activities are linked closely to physical activity, as time spent being active in the community means less time living a sedentary lifestyle at home. Studies show that older adults who volunteer at least four hours per week are 40% less likely to develop hypertension (Sneed & Cohen, 2013). Lower blood pressure means lower risk of stroke, heart disease, and premature death.
- Reduced risk of dementia
In a study conducted by the University of Calgary, those age 65 and older who volunteered regularly at least once a week for an hour were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than older adults who did not volunteer (Griep et al., 2017). The social aspects intertwined with volunteering go hand in hand with the cognitive benefits that are said to prevent or delay the onset of dementia (Gupta, 2015).
- Lower risk of mortality
Volunteering for an organization can reduce the mortality risk of healthy people age 55 and older by 47% (Okun et al., 2013). Benefits that come with volunteering such as lowering blood pressure, discovering or re-discovering a life purpose, and strengthening relationships among people are shown to positively influence people’s wellbeing.
- Increased resilience toward stress
Researchers have shown that lending a helping hand delivers positive feedback to the brain (Segal & Robinson, 2018). This means that the more we contribute to the wellbeing of another person, the happiness we receive from those acts of kindness can improve our resilience toward stress (Scott, 2018).
- Lower rates of depression
According to a study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (2019), 78% of volunteers who had five or more symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms when asked again after two years of volunteering. Social opportunities that arise from volunteer activities can help increase your support system and create a deeper connection with others which contribute to protecting you against depression (Segal & Robinson, 2018).
- Meet new people and strengthen relationships
Volunteering provides an opportunity to broaden our circle of friends and meet people whom we may not have met without volunteering. New interactions and potential friends create a stronger support network around you.
- Create a continuous cycle of giving and receiving
Helping others creates a ripple effect of good deeds. Contributing time and effort for someone else in their time of need can influence another person to extend a hand to others as well.
- Make the world a better place
We can support the people around us by using and imparting our knowledge through volunteering. Many organizations are eager to accept help if offered. Some do not have the resources to hire full-time staff, so volunteer assistance is always needed and appreciated.
Mental Health Benefits
- Discover a new passion
Volunteering allows you to dabble in an activity or role that may have always sparked your interest, but you never got around to trying. Whether that be teaching English to immigrants or organizing an event at your local community center, these new experiences can open doors to passions undiscovered. No matter the age, there is always something new to try and discover.
- Relax by doing something you love
Perhaps folding clothes brings you joy, or maybe you are skilled in carpentry or enjoy using and learning about technology. Time set aside to do something you love can be relaxing and a good change of pace from your usual routine. Not to mention, you will be able to do what you are passionate about while also helping others.
- Experience greater satisfaction in life
Older adults who are retired or have lost a spouse can feel isolated and detached from the world. By branching out into your community, you can create new meaning and purpose in life all while connecting with others. The feeling of participating in an activity greater than oneself will boost your mood and positively influence other areas in your life.
- Greater self-esteem
Helping others can provide a sense of accomplishment—especially when the positive feedback of the volunteer activity is direct. You can take pride in the activity and feel better that the effort you have put in has helped another person.
- Supporting an organization
Monetary donations are not the only way to support an organization. Time and effort invested by volunteers positively contribute towards the organization’s progress in fulfilling their mission.
- Tax deductions
Out-of-pocket expenses such as transportation to your volunteer location or materials created for the organization are eligible for a tax deduction. In order to ensure that your deduction is possible, be sure that the following are accounted for:
- Confirm that the charity is IRS-recognized
- Deductions are itemized on your tax returns
- Amount has not already been reimbursed by the charity group
- Prices to deduct are associated with volunteer work
- Written documentation is provided for the related expenses (Fritz, 2018)
To make the process of filling out your taxes simple, keep a record of your expenses such as a mileage log and materials bought for the volunteer activity. For more information, please refer to IRS Publication 526.
How to Start Volunteering
With all the opportunities available in the community, it may be difficult to know where to start your volunteering journey. The first step is to identify your motives for wanting to volunteer. Getting a good grasp of your specific goals could narrow down what activities you may want to look into. The next step is to consider your interests. If the volunteer activity aligns with something engaging to you, not only will you enjoy what you do but that joy will also spread to those around you.
When you have a better idea of your goals and interests, research organizations that align with those. Check out their website or drop by an event. If you like the organization, reach out to see if they have volunteer opportunities available. Make sure that the position available is something you are capable of doing, matches your schedule, and is enjoyable for you.
It is also good to explore different options, especially if you are just starting out. Ask your friends and family members if they volunteer – they can be a great source of information and ideas.
There is no guidebook on how to be a great volunteer, but here are some tips that will help make the experience engaging and rewarding.
- Be open-minded and have a positive attitude
- Understand what is expected of volunteers
- Ask questions if you are unsure of what to do
- Invite friends to join you—the more the merrier!
- Carpool or use another form of alternative transportation to get to the location
- Respect other volunteers and the people you interact with
- Enjoy your time there
Changing your perspective, openly communicating with fellow volunteers, and interacting with everyone in a pleasant manner will help you get the most out of your volunteering experience. It is important to remember that volunteering should be gratifying and enjoyable—not a stressor in your life. Evaluate your volunteering situation and make adjustments if necessary so that the activity best suits your lifestyle.
Volunteer Opportunities Near You
Whether you decide to donate your time at a physical location or remotely through the phone or internet, there are various options that may fit your interests, availability, and lifestyle. Look into:
- Service organizations such as Keiro
- Community theaters, museums, and monuments
- Libraries or senior centers
- Youth organizations, sports teams, or after-school programs
- Local animal shelters, rescue organizations, or wildlife centers
- Historical restorations, national parks, or conservation organizations
- Religious institutions
- Online databases (Segal & Robinson, 2018)
- Senior Corps has connected more than 220,000 older adults with volunteering opportunities. Click here to find the best opportunity suited for you.
- VolunteerMatch has a database of around 124,800 nonprofit organizations looking to match volunteers with various organizations. Click here to find an organization that fits you.
Here are some volunteer opportunities available in the Japanese-American and Japanese-speaking communities of Southern California:
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project: Preserving testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II
Go For Broke National Education Center: Educating the public about the contributions Japanese American veterans made
Japanese American Cultural & Community Center: Connecting traditional and contemporary; community participants and creative professionals; Southern California and the world beyond to Japanese and Japanese American arts and culture while also gathering a place for the diverse voices it inspires
Japanese American National Museum: Promoting understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience
Keiro: Enhancing the quality of senior life in the Japanese American and Japanese-speaking communities
Little Tokyo Service Center: Providing social welfare and community development services to assist those in low income communities
- Corporation for National and Community Service (2019, February 5). Volunteering Helps Keep Seniors Healthy, New Study Suggests. Retrieved from https://www.nationalservice.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/volunteering-helps-keep-seniors-healthy-new-study-suggests
- Fritz, J. (2018, November). The Do’s and Don’ts of Tax Deductions for Volunteers. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/the-dos-and-don-ts-of-tax-deductions-for-volunteers-2502595
- Griep, Y., Hanson, L. M., Vantilborgh T., Janssens, L., Jones, S. K., & Hyde, M. (2017, March 16). Can Volunteering in Later Life Reduce the Risk of Dementia? A 5-year Longitudinal Study among Volunteering and Non-Volunteering Retired Seniors. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0173885
- Gupta, S. (2015, November 18). Impact of Volunteering on Cognitive Decline of the Elderly. Retrieved from https://editorialexpress.com/cgi-bin/conference/download.cgi?db_name=EEAESEM2016&paper_id=44
- Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). Motives for Volunteering Are Associated with Mortality Risk in Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/hea-31-1-87.pdf
- Okun, M., Yeung, E., & Brown, S. (2013, June). Volunteering by Older Adults and Risk of Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. Psychology and Aging. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0031519
- Scott, E. (2018, January). Research-Based Links Between Happiness and Stress Relief. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/links-between-happiness-and-stress-relief-3144629
- Segal, J., & Robinson, L. (2018, December). Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm
- Sharpe, L. (2014, August). Americans Serving Their Communities Gain Well-Being Edge. Retrieved from https://teammates.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Americans-Serving-Their-Communities-Gain-Well-Being-Edge.pdf
- Sneed, R., Cohen, S. (2013, June). A Prospective Study of Volunteerism and Hypertension Risk in Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3804225/#R54