Independence & Fulfillment Article:

Build stronger communities by giving of yourself

by Adam S. Bashaw,
United Way of King County

There are few opportunities that truly enrich one's soul like volunteering. It's so rewarding to pitch in to help a great cause for the sake of just wanting to make a difference in another person's life. It's not done for money and it's not done for glory. It's done to create a stronger community.

According to a survey conducted by the Gallup Organization, almost 44 percent of all people 55 and over volunteer at least once a year. This group of volunteers gives an average of 4.4 hours per week to the causes they support - totaling some 5.5 billion hours estimated to be worth more than $70.5 billion!

The call for volunteers is great, and the opportunities are limitless. Older adults are in the best position to help their communities because they tend to have more expertise, wisdom and knowledge. They have gained practical, hands-on experience from living full and productive lives.

According to AARP, research has proven that regular volunteering - more than any other activity - prolongs life expectancy and improves our physical and psychological well-being. AARP says research also seems to indicate that doing good for others through volunteering is beneficial to our immune systems, protecting us from infections and disease.

There are many ways to get involved. First, determine where your interests and passions lie - what could be more rewarding than helping those in need and having fun as well? Without exception, there is a person or an organization somewhere out there that needs what you can offer.

Some volunteer options to consider include tutoring children at your neighborhood elementary school, being a school crossing guide, reading to the blind, greeting visitors to a local hospital, registering voters, driving homebound people to errands or doctor's appointments, or serving meals at a shelter.

Another great way to get involved is to become a board member at your favorite nonprofit agency or charitable organization. Most are in desperate need of enthusiastic board members and will happily put you right to work in this important job. Board members determine an agency's direction and policy, and those with strong life experiences are always welcome.

If you are concerned that you may not have the training to serve on a board of directors, United Way of King County can help with Project LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Diversity). Call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) for more information.

For those who like to use the Internet, a great resource for volunteer opportunities can be found at United Way of King County's Volunteer Center Web site at www.uwkc.org/volunteer. You can search for a volunteer position online based on geographical areas, activity type, interest or availability.

It's never too late to give back to your community. Taking the time to lend a hand and make a difference helps us all grow stronger.

The Healthy Aging Partnership - a coalition of 30 not-for-profit and public health, human service and senior service organizations in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties - can answer your questions about volunteer opportunities and every other aspect of senior life when you call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464). or visit the Web site at www.4elders.org. HAP is generously supported by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.