The Benefits of Volunteering

By Andy Cook

Is there something that you’re passionate about?   Do you want to share your skills and talents with others? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, volunteering may be the answer.

Here’s something that may pique your interest: a 2011 study by the University of Michigan showed that people who want to volunteer because they want to help others, live longer than those who don’t, or those who volunteer for their own self-benefit.

“We’ve known for a long time that volunteering can have benefits not just to the people receiving help but also to those who give their time and energy,” says Sara Konrath, lead author of the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Psychology.  Konrath adds, “On the surface, volunteering seems to be a purely selfless act. But in fact, people volunteer for a wide range of reasons, from getting out of the house and meeting new people to doing something good for people who need help and groups they support.”

“Volunteering is increasingly being encouraged in schools and organizations, via the media — including Oprah Winfrey’s “Angel Network” and even by President Obama,” Konrath says. “Some groups emphasize that it’s okay to want some benefits for yourself, and encourage people to think of volunteering as an exchange rather than something you do for other people who aren’t as fortunate as you are. Of course, it’s reasonable for volunteers to expect some benefits for themselves. But it’s ironic that the potential health benefits of volunteering are significantly reduced if self benefit becomes a person’s main motive.”

For many people who volunteer, they want to make a positive difference, give back to their communities, meet new people, and have fun. The Lehigh Valley has many ways you can spend time doing something which you feel adds value to your life and others.

Local Options

One such organization is the Easton Main Street Initiative (EMSI), a downtown revitalization program in Easton.  One of many similar “Main Street” programs across the state (there are others locally in Emmaus, 7th Street in Allentown, and Hamilton Street in Allentown to name a few), EMSI promotes the economic strength and vitality of downtown Easton.

Kim Kmetz, manager of EMSI, says that “our positive vibe draws people to volunteer,” and their volunteers are comprised of a diverse group of people who are like-minded and passionate about this area.  She also said “anyone can join us – it’s not limited to downtown residents who live here.  We have many people who live outside the downtown area but see this as their cultural hub and want to help make it better.”

Volunteering as Networking

Kmetz also shared a story of one unemployed person who volunteered through EMSI, and through their efforts, it led to a job in one of the local Easton businesses. In today’s economy, if you are unemployed or under-employed, volunteering may be a way to investigate other industries while building your resume and your skills. Networking isn’t limited to just the workplace environment anymore.

Consider volunteering as a way to investigate a new career path. As an example, all of our area hospitals could not function without the invaluable efforts of their volunteers. If you graduated from one of our area colleges or universities, alumni associations are also a way you can give back and support your school. Do you love animals? There are many organizations that need dog walkers and temporary homes for pets in need of love. Are you interested in government? Check with your local chamber of commerce for possible opportunities.

Research Your Options

If you’re not sure how to even begin, you can investigate volunteer options through the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley. The Volunteer Center works with over 400 Lehigh Valley agencies, and has been doing so for over 25 years.  Priscilla Schueck, Executive Director, says “you’d be surprised by the breadth and diversity of our opportunities.” Many people point their mouse to their website ( to see what appeals to them. Schueck shared that “in 2011, we had approximately 50,000 searches on their website,” and they also post openings every Sunday in The Morning Call in the Volunteers Needed column.

The Volunteer Center isn’t just about coordinating and matching resources to needs. They also see their mission as helping through motivating, recognizing and encouraging those who volunteer, and educating and training people to be future leaders, including youth and minorities.

Helping the Homebound

Meals on Wheels of Northampton County is also another great way you can make a difference in the lives of others. In 2011, Meals on Wheels volunteers drove over 200,000 miles to deliver meals to over 1,500 homebound older and disabled adults. Their volunteers provide more than just a meal; for some clients, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person they see during that day.

Public Relations Manager Diana Gaul shared that “our volunteers also provided over 1,300 grocery shopping trips for seniors unable to shop for themselves.”  They also provided pet food for 85 pets that were able to provide much needed companionship for seniors through their “Ani-meals on Wheels” program. Meals on Wheels volunteer Dale Sourbeck says “I am a volunteer driver and find great satisfaction in contributing my time to assist our seniors with their needs.”

Volunteering for a Better World

If you are interested in giving back through being ‘green’ – conserving resources and taking care of our planet – consider organizations like Habitat for Humanity, or the Lehigh Valley Zoo. If you are a senior, and have experience to share, consider mentoring small businesses through the SCORE program.

Remember, when you give back to your community, it’s a win-win situation for all involved. And if that University of Michigan study is true, it may add some years to your life to boot!

Meals on Wheels

Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley

Easton Main Street Initiative

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