Volunteering — Helping Myself While Helping Others

By Diane Petchesky-Buffolino, Senior Communications Specialist, EmblemHealth

National Volunteer Week, which runs from April 10 through April 16, 2016, is conceived to honor people who dedicate themselves to taking action and solving problems in their communities. “Celebrate Service” is the theme and presents “an opportunity for individuals, families, nonprofit organizations and government entities alike to honor the ordinary people who accomplish the extraordinary through volunteer service and who motivate others to follow their lead.”

Volunteering is typically viewed as admirable and altruistic. However, as an active and enthusiastic volunteer at Bobbi and the Strays (BATS), a no-kill animal rescue with locations in Freeport, Long Island and Glendale, Queens, I can’t say I do it only for the cats, dogs and people I help. A little bit of self-examination along with some limited research on the subject reveals that while helping others, I’m clearly helping my own mental and physical health too.

For the last five years, I have volunteered three hours — which usually turns into four or five hours — each Saturday at BATS. I do whatever is needed in the office including greeting potential adopters, processing paperwork and donations, training new volunteers and responding to all types of inquiries. I also spend quiet time with dogs that are new to the shelter, trying to calm their fears and help them get used to their new environment.

Since I started volunteering, I can honestly say I am a happier person. Being at BATS has made me feel needed and wanted. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that was lacking in other areas of my life. It gave me a sense of purpose that I did not have. Researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in American adults. They found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. I’m proof of that.

Other than a new work friend here or there, I have had the same friends for the last several decades. Volunteering at BATS gave me the chance to meet like-minded people who care about the same things as I do. I have a new, larger circle of friends. We have supported each other through animal rescue traumas as well as the ups and downs of everyday living. The feeling of connection and belonging I found through BATS means the world to me.

Whenever I can, I go to the shelter to walk dogs. They need exercise, stimulation and a change of scenery. Since I sit at a computer all day long, I need them too! Besides the obvious physical benefits of exercise including weight control, lower blood pressure, greater flexibility and a reduction in chronic pain, animals have been shown to improve mood and decrease stress and anxiety. Personally, I can feel the stress leave my body when I spend time with a dog or cat.

According to a government report, The Health Benefits of Volunteering, there is no association between receiving social support and improved health. Instead, they found that those who GAVE social support had lower mortality rates. Another literature review found that happiness, health and even longevity, particularly in later years, are benefits derived from volunteering. One researcher summarized that the evidence suggests that it may make sense for health care professionals to recommend helping others to improve patient health.

To learn more about Bobbi and the Strays and to get involved visit, bobbiandthestrays.org.