When you volunteer, you not only help others, you also help yourself. While the emotional benefits reaped from making someone else's life better have long been known, researchers now believe there also are health benefits. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that adults 50 and older who volunteered 200 hours or more a year reduced their risk of high blood pressure by 40 percent.
Seniors are in high demand as volunteers. A new government report shows that 25 percent of adults 65 and older do some volunteer work. Senior volunteers, on average, spend about 90 hours a year helping others, by far the most time spent volunteering of any age group.
If you want to volunteer but don't know where to find opportunities, events connected with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service (mlkday.gov) are a good place to start. Each year, scores of nonprofit agencies and organizations mobilize community residents for one-day events held on or near Jan. 15, King's birthday.
Stony Brook University, for example, is holding a Day of Service event next Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Student Activities Center, Ballroom B. Volunteers are needed to assemble emergency-preparedness kits. The university is hoping to prepare 250 kits, which will be distributed by several nonprofit agencies to vulnerable populations on Long Island, including seniors. "These bags will be containing a few items for emergency situations," says Urszula Zalewski, assistant director of experiential programs at Stony Brook. "About seven items will be going into each package." Among the items are flashlights, batteries, water and tools that will be supplied by the university.
Your good work will not go unrewarded. The day includes a lecture from Stephen Post, a professor of bioethics at Stony Brook and author of the books "The Hidden Gifts of Helping" and "Why Good Things Happen to Good People."
If you enjoy your morning of volunteering at Stony Brook, make it the beginning of a hobby. Several local disaster-preparedness and relief agencies, including All Hands Volunteers and the American Red Cross, will be attending and actively looking for volunteers. "People who participate will be able to talk to them about how else they can get involved on Long Island," Zalewski says.