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Volunteering: It's More Than Numbers

As summer rolls in, students finish school, many college students come home, families go on vacation, and warm-weather activities are in full swing. From local libraries, little league snack shops, recreation centers, and state parks, volunteers play an important role in our summer economy.

According to Mark Walter, Executive Director of the New York State Office of National & Community Service, there are 680,000 volunteers who are age 60+ in New York State. Collectively, they provide 49 million hours of valuable labor annually. That's a $1.3 billion contribution to New York State's economy.

According to Volunteering and Civic Life in America(External Link), an average of more than 3 million residents volunteered annually in New York State, between 2008 and 2010. This equates to approximately 20% of all New Yorkers. This number is increasing each year!

New Yorkers volunteer with educational or youth organizations (11.2%), religious organizations (14.3%), service or civic organizations (5.1%) and sports and recreation (8%).

"We often take senior volunteers for granted, but can you imagine summer festivals, sporting events, libraries, camps or parks without them? They help to keep our communities safe, healthy and happy. We are hopeful that each person volunteering in New York State encourages a friend to come along." Walter said.

New Yorkers seeking volunteer opportunities that match their skills should reach out to their Regional Volunteer Center. Contact information can be found on the New Yorkers Volunteer site(External Link) of Senior Corps, funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, taps the skills, talents, and experience of more than 330,000 Americans age 55 and over to meet a wide range of community challenges through three programs - the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Foster Grandparent Program (FGP), and the Senior Companion Program. RSVP volunteers recruit and manage other volunteers, participate in environmental projects, mentor and tutor children, partner with many area agencies on aging to provide services and respond to natural disasters, among many other activities. Foster Grandparents serve one-on-one as tutors and mentors to young people with special needs. Senior Companions help frail older adults and other adults maintain independence primarily in the clients' own homes.

The overlooked parts of volunteering are often the benefits received by the volunteer. These benefits may not be as tangible as a paycheck, but they may be even more important than money, especially for older adults, said Greg Olsen, Acting Director of the New York State Office for the Aging.

"There is a growing body of research that shows a direct association between volunteering and mental and physical health benefits. Older volunteers report lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression, fewer physical limitations, and higher levels of well-being," said Olsen. "If you rest, you rust."

Many volunteers draw experience from long and fruitful careers as stay-at-home moms, bankers, retired teachers, or police officers. At NYSOFA's recent awards ceremony honoring volunteers from across the state, there were retired engineers, former surgeons, nurses, and postal carriers, accountants, and a former owner of a beef farm, among many others with a wide variety of former career paths. How do these people help their communities?

They volunteer at food banks, hospitals, are Boy Scout leaders, they lead caregiver support programs, visit nursing home residents, maintain trails at nature centers, volunteer as firefighters, help children who are food insecure eat on weekends, and help out at senior centers. This is just the tip of the volunteer iceberg. Volunteers make a real difference, and they strengthen the fabric of our communities.

To find out how you can help your community, and yourself, visit the New York State Office of National & Community Service's web site,(External Link) or the New York State Office for the Aging's site.

If you are willing to relocate for a great opportunity, you can find some VERY adventurous opportunities(External Link) here that are located all across the U.S.

For more information on the benefits of volunteering, read this Huffington Post article.(External Link)