VOLUNTEER

I recently attended a training expo for Boy Scouts of America leaders. The majority of the leaders that attended the event are volunteers, and I was impressed that so many adults would spend most of a Saturday to learn how to better serve the youth in the various BSA programs.

I first got involved volunteering with Scouting when my boys were in Cub Scouts. I’ve stayed involved even though my children have grown up and finished with Scouting because I think the program is beneficial and I want other youth to have that opportunity. Watching boys’ excitement as their self-designed and decorated Pinewood Derby cars race down the track or seeing their wonder as we explore the outdoors on a hike makes me smile.

I’ve had other volunteer opportunities at my boys’ schools and through my church. Sometimes setting aside time to volunteer is a challenge and it’s easy to think about the long list of other things I need to get done, but giving my time to help other people always makes me feel better. It also helps me to not be so focused on myself and my own challenges.

In the past, I have required my college students to complete several hours of service learning. As part of the experience, they write a paper reflecting on what they learned. Many mention how volunteering helped them look beyond themselves and appreciate their own situations. Some even thank me for the assignment and tell me they are going to continue to volunteer.

Volunteering can also provide opportunities to develop new skills. For example, masonry students from the Atterbury Job Corps got to practice their trade by completing the concrete work for the new Brighter Days homeless shelter here in Columbus. Those who participate in Dancing with the Stars … Columbus Style have the opportunity to learn or improve their dance skills while helping raise money for local programs that benefit children and families.

Additionally, research has shown that volunteering has health benefits. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, “Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. … Evidence suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on social psychological factors, such as one’s sense of purpose. In turn, positive social psychological factors are correlated with lower risks of poor physical health. Volunteering may enhance a person’s social networks to buffer stress and reduce risk of disease.”

You can help other people and improve your health at the same time. That sounds great to me!

Volunteering allows you to give back to your community while helping others. There are lots of organizations here in Columbus looking for volunteers, including Advocates for Children, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s Book Buddies, American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Columbus Animal Care Services, Developmental Service, Inc., Our Hospice of South Central Indiana and Sans Souci.

You can find a more complete list at the United Way’s website: uwbarthco.org/volunteer. If you are interested in helping with the new homeless shelter mentioned earlier, contact Steve Ferdon at 812-344-0276.

There are many possibilities, so you should be able to find something that works for you and your schedule. Some opportunities are one-time events, while others are longer term. Additionally, each Saturday The Republic lists some volunteer opportunities along with time requirements. Take the time to volunteer. You’ll be happy you did!

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at editorial@therepublic.com.