You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give. -Winston Churchill
Each year, the holiday season provides us with the opportunity to reflect on not only our blessings, but also ways in which we can give back.Sometimes, for those who live with a rheumatic condition, this can feel like a shift in thinking. Life with a chronic disease can make one feel more often like the recipient of assistance, rather than the giver. But, it’s important to remember that each of us have talents and abilities that can benefit the world.And using our talents and abilities not only benefits those we help, but benefits us as well.
Studies have shown that individuals who volunteer their time experience higher self-esteem, greater self-respect and lower depression. It has also been shown to extend lifespan and physical health among older adults. Sharing one’s time and talents reminds us of what we are able to do, and that our unique abilities are valuable. It is a way to utilize our existing skill-sets or perhaps develop new ones.
Maximizing the benefits of volunteering means that it’s important to choose your volunteer opportunities wisely. Keep in mind the following factors:
Engage in things that motivate or inspire you.
- It’s important to find an organization or a cause that excites you or is particularly meaningful to you. You should feel a personal connection to the place you are volunteering and the work you are doing.
- You can pick something that is related to your career (i.e., tutoring students if your profession is teaching, or volunteering to help people with financial planning if you are an accountant).
- You can volunteer with as support group leader help in planning the next Gathering or do some Arthritis Foundation fundraising events. Your experiences can serve as expertise, especially for those who are newly diagnosed and/or need advice.
- You can work in a field you have been passionate about, but haven’t had time in the past to explore (maybe you love animals and want to work in an animal shelter, or you love kids and want to volunteer in a preschool).
- Know how many hours you can commit and from where you’d like to work.
- From the outset, you should be clear about how much time you can realistically give to volunteering.Volunteer positions can be a set number of hours per week or can be project-based or seasonal for a particular organization. As you look for volunteer opportunities keep in mind the amountof time you are willing and able to commit.
- The location of volunteer positions can also vary. Some require you to be on-site at a particular location. Others may allow you to work remotely. Be honest about what will work for you. If commuting back and forth is challenging for you, you may want to opt for a volunteer position that will allow you to work from home. Additionally, some positions may allow you to be on site, but also do some of your projects. Pick a situation that will work best for you.
Make sure your volunteer position allows for flexibility and accommodates your needs.
- Flexibility is very important when you volunteer, especially when you have a rheumatic condition. During periods of flare-ups, you may need to cut back your volunteering hours and take rest.Other times, when you are feeling good, you may want to commit more hours.Be sure to be up front in asking about the amount of flexibility a volunteer position provides.
- If you are volunteering on-site at an organization, make sure the physical structure accommodates your needs.The following are things to look for:
- Parking: How far will you have to walk to get to the building?
- Elevators: If you have to go up floors, is there an elevator available for you to use, or is the only option stairs?
- Desk or Working Space: Is the physical space where you’ll be working comfortable for you?
- Is it easy to get in and out of? Will you be in a single position for a long time that might be uncomfortable? Are you able to move around?
Volunteering and giving back can bring meaning and fulfillment in our lives, while enriching the lives of others. By taking the time to find the right fit, you can find the volunteer position that will mean the most to you.There’s so much that can be done right here in our arthritis community. Here are few ideas to get you started.
- Become an Arthritis Foundation Advocate.
- Volunteer at local Arthritis Foundation offices.
- Intern with Arthritis Introspective.
- Volunteer to write for the Thrive Newsletter.
- Become an Arthritis Support Network Leader in your city or town
Choose a volunteer position that works best for you by considering the following factors:
- Engaging in things that motivate and inspire you.
- Knowing the amount of time and location you can work from.
- Finding a situation that allows for flexibility and accommodation of your needs.
Volunteer Work and Well-Being by Peggy Thotis and Lynn Hewitt
Sri Ramakumar is a freelance writer with a Master of Science (MS) in Family Studies & Human Development and a Master of Social Work (MSW). Ms. Ramakumar will be conducting an ongoing series of articles related to coping and thriving with the social and emotional side of rheumatic and arthritis related conditions. By following this series, readers can learn about the social and emotional impact of the disease along with learning the necessary tools to help deal with the often overlooked aspects of these condition.