International Volunteer Day Dec 5, 2013
Volunteering Has An International Impact
Thursday, December 5th is the United Nations' (UN) International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development. Around the world, people of all ages donate their time and energy to a wide array of projects that help improve the lives of others. This global observance is an annual recognition of those millions of volunteers and the impact their work has on the community at the local, national, and international levels. It is also a day for promoting the importance of volunteer activities and inspiring people to do charitable acts of kindness or giving.
Older Americans and Volunteering
Older Americans devote a significant amount of their time to volunteering. They enjoy being able to contribute to causes for which they have a passion since there is often more room for leisure in retirement and once children have left the nest. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) released data showing that one-third of U.S. volunteers are 55 and older. In 2011, of the 8 billion volunteer hours that generated an estimated economic value of $171 billion nationwide, approximately 3 billion of those hours and $67 billion came from the efforts of older Americans.
These figures are not unique to the United States. For example, the volunteering activity of older adults in the United Kingdom is estimated to contribute £10 billion (or approximately $16.2 billion) annually to the British economy. This is a result of their help in areas including assisting older neighbors, delivering meals, and staffing community clubs. Likewise, a report from Canada shows the country's 65 and older population provided 372 million hours at a value of more than $5 billion in 2010. Popular volunteer activities included tutoring school-aged youths, fundraising, and offering office support.
New York State by the Numbers
In New York State , the economic benefit of volunteering brought $9 billion in 2011 alone. A significant portion can be attributed to the efforts of older persons. New Yorkers 55 and older contributed on average the most hours of all age groups, and impressively individuals aged 65-74 averaged over 100 hours of service. NYSOFA estimated that over 600,000 older residents contributed 43 million hours of volunteer service. Also, more than 36% of the older residents in Rochester volunteered, making it the second ranked city in the country for volunteering among senior citizens.
In addition to the economic benefits are the many societal benefits that result when older adults volunteer. Evidence suggests their work in classrooms improves test scores and child behavior. The Aspen Institute highlights how seniors enhance social productivity when they share their career knowledge by volunteering to help others in their field. A 2013 UnitedHealth Group study indicates volunteering improves socialization skills, fosters sense of community, and bridges gaps between diverse groups of people. Also, older persons working with nonprofits and community groups help these organizations extend their budgets to provide critical services, especially during tough economic times.
Numerous studies also highlight the health benefits older adults enjoy when they volunteer. Dr. Erwin Tan, the director of Senior Corps at the CNCS, said "along with delivering enormous social and economic benefit to communities nationwide, volunteer service also allows older Americans to remain active and healthy, an outcome that is critical as our nation strives to lower health care costs in times of budget constraints." For instance, seniors who volunteer exhibit better brain function, better cognitive ability, and lower levels of depression. Older adult volunteers also have increased physical functioning, better overall health, and tend to live longer lives.
How You Can Help
So in the spirit of International Volunteer Day, be sure to look into volunteer opportunities that suit you. There are many options open to older adults who want to devote their time to improving the lives of others. Even if you have limited mobility, you can help without leaving your home. Virtual volunteering opportunities allow individuals to give back with activities such as making crafts for hospitals and military families, bookkeeping online for nonprofits, and fundraising for a good cause. No matter your abilities the key is to find something you are passionate about, something you enjoy!
Did You Know?
Check out NYSOFA's volunteer opportunities webpage for details about great national and statewide programs and the New York State Commission on National and Community Service that can help you identify local volunteer opportunities in your community. Also feel free to contact your local office for the aging to get more information about the opportunities available in your community.