Volunteering: What's In It For Me?


In between jobs, Dan, an executive in corporate real estate nationally and internationally, started volunteering at Haven Toronto, a downtown drop-in centre for elder homeless men. Dan sees volunteering as a way of giving back to the community – a commitment he takes seriously. Years later, Dan continues to make time to volunteer at Haven Toronto, showing up weekly to assist in an emergency clothing room.



At the same centre, a homeless man also named Dan volunteered because it gave him a sense of purpose; as he put it, “A reason to get out of bed in the morning.” This Dan would help out in the kitchen, assisting with meal preparation and clean-up at breakfast and lunch. It was uplifting for Dan to give back to the organization that was supporting him during a low time.

The decision to volunteer – the why and the where – is very personal. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It can also help grow relationships, update skills, and advance your career.

In time for National Volunteer Week, April 24th to 30th, here are a few social, emotional, physical, and professional advantages to volunteering:

Reduce Loneliness – The World Health Organization reports that social isolation and loneliness seriously impact people’s physical and mental health, quality of life, and longevity. Loneliness and social isolation are two of the most severe epidemics in the world today. If you are isolated or alone, volunteering can reduce loneliness.

Increase Socialization – According to Psychology Today, volunteering can help increase and improve social interactions, leading to better mental and physical health. The benefits of socializing include better brain function, lower risk for depression and anxiety, and an improved immune system.

Build Community – The Corporation for National & Community Service says you strengthen your community and your social network when you volunteer. You make connections with the people you are helping and cultivate friendships with other volunteers.

Build Bonds – You create stronger bonds between friends, family, and co-workers when you volunteer. People build closer relationships, better connections, and, according to MacQuarie University, more powerful attachments when they work together on a shared interest, like volunteering.

Improve the School Experience – For high-school students, volunteering builds social skills and develops awareness about the world around them. By volunteering, they can boost their college or university applications and gather transferable skills. College and university students can use volunteering to improve their job search prospects post-graduation.

Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s – Research has shown that people who volunteer may be at lower risk of dementia. Studies from the Journal of Gerontology indicate that taking part in social services improves elasticity in the brain. Then, as volunteers age, they may be able to maintain the connections in their brains that often break down in Alzheimer’s patients. Social interaction can help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s, and volunteering can be a fantastic way to socialize.

Improve Mental Health – Volunteering can grow self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of self-worth. At a time when mental illness is a growing problem world-wide and scientists are tracking a surge in depression, volunteering is not only beneficial, it can be life-changing and even life-saving.

If you haven’t done so already, consider taking time this National Volunteer Week to find your ‘why’ and let organizations like Haven Toronto help with the where, like they have done for hundreds of people, like they have done for people like Bogdan.

Bogdan immigrated to Canada from eastern Europe. He quickly found work in the trades and an apartment downtown. Finding friends did not come as easy. After breaking his arm, unable to work, Bogdan lost his job and then his home. Homeless, Bogdan became a client of Haven Toronto, volunteered every day, seven days a week, and used the opportunity to improve his mental health, to give back and, as it turns out, grow friendships.

If you are eager to meet new people, improve your health and well-being, and give back to your community, organizations like Haven Toronto can benefit from your volunteering.

At the start of the pandemic, most of the volunteering opportunities at Haven Toronto were placed on hiatus to protect staff and vulnerable clients, and reduce the risk of becoming ill. Recently the drop-in centre started welcoming back volunteers; still, there are hundreds of important volunteer roles available. To learn more, visit www.haventoronto.ca/volunteer.

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