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The Power of Volunteering

by Nicola on 2015-05-24

Volunteering: For the Well-being of the Self and the Community
By Dr Nicola Davies
Volunteering is when a person takes time and effort to do an act or service without expecting any payment in return. It is about getting involved with a cause or effort and offering your help freely. Examples of causes requiring volunteers are: protecting the environment by cleaning up the town river, feeding the hungry, or teaching children to read better. 
It is commonly understood that there is no payment involved, but volunteering is still mutually beneficial for the community and the volunteer. Selfless acts improve the well-being of both those at the receiving end and those at the giving end. The cause will have more people who are ready and able to get the job done, while the volunteer gets to satisfy some personal reason for volunteering.
According to a professor of Psychology at the Claremont Graduate University in California, USA, Allen Omoto, there are ‘self-focused’ reasons and ‘others-focused’ reasons for volunteering:

  • Self-focused reasons are to learn more about the cause, to develop new skills, and to feel better about one’s self. 
  • The ‘other-focused’ reasons are to express one’s humanitarian values and to serve the community. 

Whatever reason someone may have for volunteering, the act proves to have many benefits for the well-being of both the person and the community.

Benefits of Volunteering
When a person helps another without thinking of getting anything in return, it brings positive emotions and thoughts. It can make a person feel better, knowing that their action has benefited someone other than themselves. These happy feelings are also contagious and can have a positive effect in other areas of a person’s life such as work and personal relationships. For Kugluktuk, spreading positivite feelings can help uplift the community as a whole.
Volunteering also gives people a greater purpose in life. It can help shift attention away from dangerous forms of distraction like alcohol and illegal drugs, especially for young people. A suvey by the Nunavik Inuit Health Society in 2004 found that among Inuit communities, the rate of illegal drug users was 60%, which was almost four times higher compared to the general Canadian population. The risk of drug use and addiction is also higher among young people. Volunteering is an effective way to counter that risk.

Retired University of Wisconsin Sociologist, Jane Allyn Piliavin, found that volunteering showed a decrease in drug use, teen pregnancies and school dropout rates among teenagers. She also found that teenagers who volunteer tend to have a healthier self-concept, better learning attitudes, and higher grades. This shows that volunteering not only lessens the risk of drug use, but also has a positive influence on young people's learning, mental health and self-esteem.
When young people volunteer, they are also less likely to use drugs when they grow up. A study by Gustavo Carlo and his colleagues found that children who lived in rural areas and did volunteer work were less likely to become drug users in their adult years.
Studies have also found that consistent volunteer work can lengthen a person’s life. Inuit members who may be very busy with work and family duties should still make time to volunteer because it provides physical health benefits that add years to a person’s life. For example, a clean-up drive or a traditional hunting workshop is a physical activity that helps reduce stress and gets the body moving and the blood flowing - great for the mind and body!
Volunteering can also be a way to increase mental activity. The elders can continue to help in their community by mentoring and teaching their traditional skills and passing on wisdom. For young people, volunteering with the elderly is an opportunity to learn their native language, Inuktitut. Volunteering for various causes in the community can also be a way for them to grow into youth leaders and practice their creativity, decision-making abilities, and communication skills.
As a community, Kugluktuk could benefit from volunteering opportunities by building strong bonds among members. When people are personally and emotionally involved in the causes that build a better community, it organizes members into one meaningful whole. Everyone volunteers his or her time and effort and knows that this contribution - however large or small - helps in meeting the goals of the community.
Practicing and Building the Volunteering Habit
The desire to volunteer and have concern for the well-being of others doesn't come easily for everyone, but it can be practiced. Everyone  can share a little bit of their time or a particular skill or talent to help someone else in the community. Volunteering can be done over and over until it becomes a habit. Studies have shown that when people volunteer consistently for a long period of time, they benefit more in terms of their physical, mental, social and psychological well-being than those who volunteer only a few times.
Volunteering also sets a good example for the younger generation. It is a habit that they can start learning while they are still young. Children who have the experience of volunteering are more likely to grow up as adults who volunteer and give back to the community. Even if children are not willing to do it in the first place, they still grow up more likely to do volunteer work than those who did not have the same experience in their youth.
There are several ways that volunteering can be practiced. For example, elders in the community can continue to work with schools and provide workshops that celebrate their traditions, culture, art and heritage. These kinds of activities promote a sense of belonging. Adults can also volunteer in organizations that counsel and bring awareness about drug abuse and other social problems. They can share their own experiences or train to become counselors themselves.

Parents can put together 'parent circles,' where they share best practices about parenting, family communication and guiding their children. They can also become active supporters of youth organizations such as the youth sports group called Grizzlies that was able to put the Alcohol Education Committee together. Parents and elders can get involved and organize community activities aimed at celebrating optimism and the culture of volunteerism.

It is very important to include young members of the community who can become youth leaders. Teaching children to lead when it comes to volunteering can ensure that tomorrow’s Inuit community of adult volunteers will be built - ultimately leading to a happier and healthier community.

So, raise your hands if you would like to volunteer!


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