More than one in five older adults volunteer. Volunteering can be a meaningful opportunity for people of any age, but especially for those later in life. A 2019 study in the Australian Journal of Psychology found the more people volunteer, the more their life satisfaction increases.
There are a number of reasons to consider volunteering, including increasing your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Benefits of Volunteering
Builds Strong Communities
When you volunteer, you make connections with other volunteers to tackle challenges facing your community. Even helping out with a small task can make a big difference in the lives of others.
Loneliness and social isolation are two severe epidemics in the world today that can lead to significant health risks. Although loneliness can affect anyone, older adults have a higher risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone and the loss of family or friends. Volunteering connects people and helps strengthen bonds between friends, family, and coworkers. The feeling of loneliness and few interactions with others can negatively impact a person’s health. Getting out into the community and volunteering promotes socialization. Plus, individuals who engage in volunteering activities experience a shorter course of depression than those who do not, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Volunteering can be life-changing in many ways, especially for those who suffer from low self-esteem. Helping others and the community can boost confidence by providing a sense of accomplishment. Volunteering can also give you a sense of pride and identity. As we grow older, our sense of purpose might begin to fade. Children grow up and move out of the house, we retire from our jobs, and some physical activities may become more difficult. Regaining a feeling of purpose through volunteering can help older adults feel recharged with a new zest for life. It can also be a motivating factor for setting and accomplishing other goals.
Reduces Risk of Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are frightening possibilities for millions of individuals. However, research has shown that volunteering may reduce the risk of dementia. Further studies indicate that social service improves elasticity in the brain. As volunteers age, volunteering may help them maintain the connections in their brains that often break down in patients with dementia.
Improves Physical Health and Longevity
Research shows that volunteers are healthier and have a lower mortality rate than those who do not volunteer. One study found that people who volunteer over 100 hours a year are some of the healthiest people in the US. Volunteering can also minimize chronic pain symptoms and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Improves Mental Health
Volunteering keeps the brain active, which contributes to mental health. Meaningful and productive activities can help you feel happier and have a positive outlook on life. According to the National Institute on Aging, volunteering may also lower your risk of dementia and other health issues
Provides a Sense of Purpose and Direction
Volunteering can add new meaning to the lives of young people who haven’t yet found their path and older adults, especially those who have retired or lost a spouse. Regardless of your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life.
Contemporary social neuroscience research shows that when people donate to charity, either financially or through volunteering, the mesolimbic system, the portion of the brain responsible for feelings of reward, is triggered. As a result, the brain releases feel-good chemicals, spurring you to perform more kind acts—something psychologists call “helper’s high.”
Helps Counteract the Effects of Stress, Anger, Anxiety, and Depression
Few things relieve stress better than a meaningful connection to another person. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can profoundly affect your overall psychological well-being and help bolster your support system, which can protect you from anxiety and depression.
Doing good for others and the community provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. When you feel better about yourself, you are more likely to view your life and future goals positively.
Connect to Others
Do you struggle to find new activities to do with your spouse or grandchildren? Volunteering is a great way to reconnect and strengthen your relationships. Together, you can learn, help others, and make meaningful memories to share with family members and friends. By interacting with younger generations, older adults are able to share important life lessons. On the other hand, younger generations can teach seniors new ways of looking at life. By building a connection with each other, both generations can offer respect and affirmation.
Engage with Old Interests
Do you have an old hobby that has slipped to the wayside? It might be time to revisit it. Put your interests to good use by finding a volunteer activity that includes something that you used to enjoy. For example, if you retired from a teaching career, you might enjoy volunteering at a youth center.Volunteer activities can align with almost any interest, including art, building, cooking, business, and exercise. Do some research to find the one that best fits your interests.
Learn New Skills
Sometimes, monotony can make life a little dull. If you find yourself bored or with too much time on your hands, volunteering might be just what you need to spice things up. Many volunteer activities allow you to try things you’ve never done before and learn new skills. Take a look at opportunities that are a little outside of your comfort zone. You may develop a passion you never knew you had!
The following websites may be help you find the ideal volunteer opportunity in your area. Keep in mind, volunteering doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment, although those are always welcomed. You can customize your volunteer experiences to fit your lifestyle and schedule. Nonprofit organizations have multiple needs, including those requiring a minimal investment of time and energy.
Create The Good (AARP)
10 National Organizations that Need Your Help
Silver Sneakers compiled a list of 10 National Organizations that need your help around the country.
1. Senior Corps
The cause: Harnessing the experience and dedication of adults 55 years and older to strengthen communities across the country
Through the Foster Grandparent program, active in 8,000 locations across the United States, volunteers can serve as role models, mentors, and tutors to children and youth in need. Another program, Senior Companion, connects volunteers with older adults who need help with daily tasks like food shopping and paying bills.
Learn more and get involved: Visit NationalService.gov/senior-corps.
2. National Park ServiceThe cause: Preserving America’s landscapes and history
Caring for more than 85 million acres of American landscape and historic sites isn’t easy—that’s why the National Park Service (NPS) needs your help.
“We take care of America’s most special places,” says Kathy Kupper, a volunteer-turned-spokesperson for the NPS. “These parks are part of the American story. People can be part of that.”
The country’s 418 sites rely on volunteers who greet visitors, hand out information, and lead tours. Bank 250 service hours, and you get a free annual pass to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Some even turn volunteering into a season-long trip by becoming a campground host in exchange for a campsite.
Not into history or the great outdoors? No problem. “We match the skill set of the volunteer to the needs of the park,” Kupper says. “If someone calls who’s a librarian or a photographer or a videographer, that might not be somebody we knew we were looking for. But we would gladly work with them.”
Learn more and get involved: Volunteer opportunities are posted on Volunteer.gov, but it’s better to contact the park you’re interested in and ask for the volunteer coordinator, who may know of park needs not posted online.
3. Meals on WheelsThe cause: Providing meals (and company) to homebound seniors
Through its network of 5,000 independently run local programs, Meals on Wheels operates in nearly every community in America. The most common volunteer job is delivering meals (and friendly greetings) to homebound seniors. You pick up meals at a central location and deliver them along a predetermined route. When you’re finished, you return the delivery packaging and carry on with your day.
“Often, a volunteer is the only person an isolated, homebound senior will see in a given day,” says spokesperson Jenny Bertolette Young.
And as the number of seniors continues to grow—it’s projected to double by 2060, Young says—so does the need for volunteers. “It will take a huge increase in volunteer resources to meet the need going forward.”
Learn more and get involved: Visit AmericaLetsDoLunch.org to find a program near you, and then reach out to that program directly.
4. Feeding America
The cause: Fighting hunger
As the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the country, Feeding America is leading the fight to end hunger in America, where one in eight people still struggles to get enough to eat.
With 200 food banks nationwide, the nonprofit not only helps some 46 million people, but it also works to raise awareness and advocates for policies that aid hungry individuals. Volunteers can help sort food, answer calls, and assist with administrative work. Those with a flexible schedule, like retirees, are in especially high demand.
Learn more and get involved: Find your local food bank at FeedingAmerica.org/volunteer, and contact it directly to ask where they need help.
5. Canine Companions for Independence
The cause: Providing trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities free of charge
As the largest provider of assistance dogs in the country, Canine Companions for Independence connects expertly trained dogs to people with disabilities, totally free of charge.
“Volunteers are our foundation,” says Jeanine Konopelski, director of marketing. “They make our mission possible.”
The organization has six training centers across the country and more than 40 volunteer chapters providing support. But volunteer puppy raisers can live anywhere in the United States.
How it works: You raise the puppy from eight weeks to 18 months and are responsible for attending puppy classes, teaching basic commands, and socializing the puppy. During that time, you submit monthly reports on the puppy’s progress and cover the cost of care, including approved food, supplies, and veterinary visits. Those expenses are usually tax deductible.
If that’s too big a commitment, you can also assist in organizing events, dog walking, office work, and campus beautification.
Learn more and get involved: Visit CCI.org/volunteer, or call 800-572-BARK (2275).
6. Peace Corps
The cause: To promote world peace by helping development-interested countries Ever wish you’d joined the Peace Corps when you were younger? It’s not too late. In fact, with its 50-plus initiative, the federal agency is now actively courting older adults. The reason: Retirees often bring just the kind of life skills, professional experience, and tested maturity that the organization is looking for.
Volunteers are trained and placed across the world in jobs like farming, teaching, or leading grassroots efforts to protect the environment. Service can last from three months to two years. Housing and a living stipend are provided, and all medical expenses during service, including preventative care, are covered.
Learn more or get involved: Check out the 50-plus opportunity here.
7. The Prem Rawat Foundation
The cause: Addressing fundamental human needs and promoting peace around the world You don’t have to leave your house to change the world. The Prem Rawat Foundation offers a variety of volunteer opportunities you can do remotely from home. Roles include translators, writers, proofreaders, or designers.
In fact, most of the team are volunteers, allowing the vast majority of funds go where needed: to programs that help deliver food, water, education, and a message of peace across the world.
Learn more and get involved: Visit TPRF.org/volunteer to check and apply for available opportunities.
8. Days for Girls
The cause: Delivering sanitary care and education for girls around the globe
Across the world, hundreds of millions of women and adolescent girls lack access to menstrual hygiene supplies. Many resort to using rags, mattress stuffing, or even cow dung—and they may miss school days because of it.
Days for Girls is on a mission to change that. Starting as a grassroots effort in 2008, it’s reached more than 1 million girls and women in 125-plus countries, delivering sanitary kits containing washable pads and other essentials. “
Girls will often cry and hug their kits after getting them,” says Tiffany Larson, international chapters director. “Some even dance with them. It makes a tangible difference in their lives.”
Volunteers meet in groups or work individually from home to sew these items and the drawstring bags they come in. The organization has more than 1,000 chapters and teams, and more than 4,000 solo sewists. Patterns offer detailed instruction and fabric guidelines. You’re expected to cover supplies, though chapters and teams can hold fundraisers to help with the cost.
Can’t sew? There are plenty of ways to get involved, Larson says.
9. Habitat for Humanity
The cause: Providing affordable housing for everyone If you’re handy with tools, this may be a great fit. The nonprofit builds and renovates homes for families who need them. Volunteers work side by side with the future homeowners, who will later pay an affordable mortgage.
You can pitch in locally or travel where needed. The RV Care-A-Vanners program is available to anyone with a recreational vehicle. You can travel the country training Habitat affiliates on safety or help rebuild communities recovering after a disaster.
Not so handy? Volunteers are also needed to staff offices, act as gofers around a build site, or lend a hand at ReStores, which are home improvement stores and donation centers selling new and gently used furniture, appliances, home goods, building materials, and more.
Learn more and get involved: Check out all the opportunities at Habitat.org/volunteer. 10. USO
The cause: Improving the lives of veterans and military families Sometimes those who serve can use a little help themselves. Enter the USO, the 77-year-old organization committed to supporting military men and women. Volunteers work special events, greet homecoming veterans, or simply provide a listening ear.
The congressionally chartered, private organization has local centers across the country.