While an academic definition of volunteerism is any activity in which time and talent is given freely to deliver services or perform tasks to benefit another person, group or cause with no direct financial compensation expected, volunteering is really just a more organized form of giving of ourselves to contribute in some way to shape our own future and that of others.
Surveys show that most people believe that helping others has a positive effect on the general well-being of both the donor and the recipient. The positive relationship between subjective and objective well-being and volunteer work include life-satisfaction, self-esteem, and self-rated health. Also, volunteers increase the opportunity to advance educational and occupational objectives when exploring the idea that volunteering benefits both the helper and the helped.
It has also been suggested that the degree of one's well-being in helping redress the damaging affects of our modern-day culture of disconnection would facilitate a higher amount of volunteer work, thus reinforcing the fact that all of our actions contribute in some way to shaping our own future and that of others. According to recent studies about the personal benefits derived from volunteering - enjoyment of the activity, meeting new people and building friendships, the desire to make a real difference, and a sense of personal achievement - were highlighted as key incentives. While these are important benefits it is suggested that the maintenance of good health, by helping to halt the effects of diseases and disorders - psychological and physical - is even more so.
Exchange theory assumes that people must act in a self-interested manner in order for social equilibrium to be achieved, placing their own interests before those of others, but a competing theory argues that people's identity is important and that many people think of themselves as the kind of person who helps others regardless of whether their actions receive praise (Hart et al. 1996, Schervish & Havens 1997:240). This theory, better than exchange theory, might explain why it is often easier to get people to sign up for risky, challenging, demanding work than for mundane, trivial, and routine tasks: "they want to be challenged by what they're doing, and they don't hesitate to do something that's going to be hard" (Chambre 1991:276).
Volunteering is a meaningful way for people to become integrated into their community. While many seek to explore their creative powers and sense of spiritual identity through helping others, they also derive numerous personal health benefits from these activities such as a sense of inner-satisfaction while they are nurturing the well-being of the community. Volunteering increases one's physical health and agility, particularly older persons who volunteer have fewer medical problems and are less prone to incidences of heart disease and diabetes. Volunteering assumes an especially important role among the elderly because it can 'inoculate' them from hazards of retirement, which may include feelings of worthlessness and depression - which proliferates physical decline and inactivity.
Volunteering increases one's physical health and agility -- volunteer activities help older persons stay physically active. Older adults, who engage in regular physical activity, whether moderate or intense, have lower incidences of heart disease and diabetes and are at lower risk for other cardiovascular diseases." (Trojcak)
The challenge of volunteerism and personal development is to cultivate a positive attitude regarding one's values and overall life practices; and a greater sense of integration between oneself and the world. Important skills for the volunteer to develop are leadership skills, creative expression, role relationships, team building, innovation, collaborative problem-solving, conceptual thinking and resourcefulness. It is also vital that the volunteer be perceptive to envisage how objective experiences will affect his or her personal values, perception and life goals; and how these will effect his or her personal development. (Volunteerism and Personal)
Other studies have been performed to find the correlation between male and female volunteerism. It was revealed that human capital, motivations and beliefs, as well as social resources help explain gender differences in volunteering. "Female volunteers scored higher on measures of altruism and empathy and attach more value to helping others, while male volunteers are also likely to readily provide civic skills on which much volunteering depends. Resources work better for men than women; for example, education has a stronger effect on the volunteering of men than women, at least in the political sphere (Schlozman et al. 1994:969). There is some evidence, however, that women compensate for their lack of human capital by having more social resources, which brings their volunteer rate closer to that of men (Wilson & Musick 1997a).
Volunteering today differs vastly from its function a century ago. While the impetus of volunteerism and social welfare shifted from initially being mainly dependent on individual efforts and eventually becoming more the responsibility of the state, the focus at the dawn of the 21st Century has once again reverted from being reliant on professional service workers to the community to step in to take care of its own.
The dependency on volunteerism is today greater than ever. Changing fiscal policies mean reduced funding to voluntary organizations despite new service-oriented groups being formed out of necessity, such as rape crisis centers, shelters for abused women and children; and victims of war and violent crime, and even informal gestures of volunteerism to help others such as organizing a used clothing or canned food drive at work, shopping for a neighbor who is homebound, serving as a mentor for children or giving blood.
Volunteerism, many have observed, has little to do with being a 'do- gooder'. It is about valuing the person, and increasing the value of social and human resources; it is about self-esteem, freely sharing one's talent and wisdom; it is about being valued, not paid; it is about empowerment, growth and creativity; it is about enhancing the community's quality of life. It is also about having fun in the process." (Volunteering and Healthy Aging)
The extent to which both official and spontaneous volunteerism is performed was clearly evident during the terrorist attacks on September 11 nearly two years ago when more than 3,000 people were killed. It was an event that was to rekindle the spirit of generosity, humanity and concern for people in distress on an international scale. The event also promoted citizen preparedness and increased the support of volunteerism.
Disasters affect people in many ways and volunteers need to be receptive to the emotions, feelings and physical symptoms that the victims may be experiencing and have the ability to reduce the stress to begin the healing process. However, it is not impossible for a volunteer to also embrace some warranted emotions such as shock and fear pertaining to a tragedy, but it is important to focus on the positive by reaching out to other's who are in need. Studies have shown that through volunteerism one is able to resolve negative personal emotions, which is good for the body and the soul because it reduces the risk of illness.
In conclusion, promoting better health and well-being to both volunteer and persons in need of help, volunteerism and personal development is the pivot around which a social network that provides both emotional benefits and actual assistance in time of need revolves. For the recipient, the mere reassurance that help is available inspires positive feelings that act as a buffer against stress and illness. Studies have shown that a patient's disease-fighting ability or struggle for survival can be greatly strengthened by his or her own positive thoughts and as well as comforting, re-assuring words from people who genuinely care. People with increased social contact have fewer health risk factors, such as physical inactivity and high blood pressure.
Volunteering makes people feel good about themselves, which translate into a general sense of health," notes…