The unexpected benefits of volunteering

May 27, 2010

by: Lisa Pyron
Kiwanis Kids Specialist

A friend of mine recently lost his job due to downsizing and was having a tough time transitioning to a new routine.  One day we met for lunch and talked about the loss associated with leaving a longtime job.  People experience loss everyday in one way or another: the loss of a job, the loss of a close co-worker who moves on to a new position, a relationship that ends or a loved one who passes away.  At one time or another, we all experience loss and work our way through the grieving process.  For those unfamiliar with the sages of grieving here’s a quick review.


Stages of grieving: 

1. Shock and denial

2. Pain and guilt

3. Anger and bargaining

4. Depression, reflection and loneliness

5. The upward turn

6. Reconstruction

7. Acceptance


My friend was slowly moving out of stage 4 and his depression was lifting. One of the activities he continued to participate in during this time was volunteering for Kiwanis. He commented that working with the K-Kids club made him feel valued and relevant.  Being around elementary  students  planning and conducting community service rebooted his psyche!


What is it about volunteering that’s so good for our physical and mental health?  According to Gary Small, M.D. and director of the Center on Aging at UCLA, research shows that emotional, spiritual, and social factors are all important for longevity.  The Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, CA, reports that people who volunteer at two or more organizations have a 44 percent lower death rate than those who don’t do any charitable work.  This is comparable to exercising 4 times a week!  In fact, volunteering, like working out, positively affects the immune system, brain and hormones, according to research conducted at the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University in New York.


Here’s another bit of fun news for Kiwanis members.  UCLA scientists who connected older Web surfers (all 55 and up) to a brain-scanning MRI machine found that searching the Internet, like reading a book, stimulates areas of the brain responsible for language, memory, visual ability, and comprehension.   Clicking through Web sites takes it even further and triggers parts of the brain that handle decision-making and complex reasoning.  So, surfing through the Kiwanis Web site exercises your brain.  How’s that for an extra Kiwanis member benefit!  


Just think of your Kiwanis volunteer experience as a workout that’s ensuring a happier, healthier, longer life!  

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