Volunteers may live longer. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people over 50 who regularly volunteered were less likely to get high blood pressure. Whether this was directly brought about by lending a hand or whether it was because volunteers were more active or eat better than non-volunteers was not determined. But since hypertension contributes to heart disease, stroke, and early death, the possible connection could not be overlooked. Volunteering is thought to reduce stress, another indicator for health.
Volunteers have a lower risk of depression, gain a sense of purpose, learn new skills, and stay physically and mentally engaged. Among older volunteers, there are benefits to personal satisfaction levels and perceptions of one’s own health. For all ages, volunteering introduces people to others with shared interests and helps develop new social relationships — all more aspects of a positive outlook.
We were motivated to look into this by a meeting in Sag Harbor in January, organized by the village board, to highlight the work of volunteer groups and recruit new members. One speaker observed that potential volunteers did not always know where to turn and suggested a fair of sorts, at which groups could present themselves to the public and outline their needs. This is a terrific idea.
Altruistic readers need not wait for a fair or forum, though. Each of the libraries has opportunities for volunteering, as does Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Arts organizations depend on free muscle — and often provide perks like free admission as a thank-you. Meals on Wheels often needs drivers to deliver hot food to the homebound. Fighting Chance, the cancer care charity, calls on volunteers to take patients to appointments and help with events. The East Hampton Trails Preservation Society needs people to trim brush, remove downed limbs, and repair footpaths. Also outdoors, Peconic Land Trust volunteers lead hikes and workshops, plant beach grass, and keep an eye on its many preserves, and will welcome assistance in its offices as well. These are just a few of the opportunities.
Volunteering is its own reward — and keeps you healthy and active, too. Finding new ways to connect people to projects would benefit everyone.