By Diane Burke
Chances are, if you are reading an article with the word ‘volunteering’ in the title, you have been considering the idea. Perhaps paid employment is providing a cheque to meet your financial needs but lacks a higher purpose. Perhaps your children are now needing less of your time which leaves you with an opportunity to rediscover yourself by exploring new interests. Or, perhaps you are retired and finding yourself isolated and missing the socialization that comes with being a member of a team. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are feeling a desire to try something new, or to become more engaged in the larger world, or to make a difference in your community. You are searching for greater meaning in your life.
Once the basics of life are satisfied―the bills are paid, there is food on the table, the children are cared for―many experience a need for personal growth and fulfillment that the work that supports their daily lives cannot always fulfill. There is growing evidence and awareness of the existence of this intrinsic human need and the benefits that accrue when that need is met.
“Volunteering can satisfy that deep-seated need to make a difference.”
The research of psychologist Frederick Herzberg reveals that work that allows one to experience a sense of recognition and that allows for personal growth is a more significant motivational factor than additional money. This type of research is the basis of the subject matter of Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink explores the “deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”
Sociologist, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, expresses the same idea in her book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50. She describes an individual’s need to “move from an experience of working that is competitive, individualistic, that’s achievement oriented, that’s about status, going up the ladder of success to the kind of work—a very different kind of work—that’s collaborative, generative, that’s about giving forward to society.”
“Volunteering has proven physical and mental health benefits.”
We all have an intrinsic need to enrich our lives by performing work that is meaningful and purposeful and volunteer work can be the means to satisfy this human need. Volunteering can also contribute to your physical and mental well-being.
Studies demonstrate that volunteering leads to greater physical and psychological benefits and to longer and healthier lives. A study on the health benefits of volunteering to adults age 65 and older found that “the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment that an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities,” (Herzog et al., 1998). While much of the research reveals the beneficial effects of volunteering on retired persons, younger people also stand to benefit in that they experience less health-related issues later in life. A study of a group of women who had volunteered on an intermittent basis from the time that they married until the age of 55 “scored higher on functional ability…than those who had not,” (Moen et al., 1992). This positive outcome persisted regardless of social and economic status, previous illness, age, and gender.
“Discover a unique volunteering experience at Classic Theatre Festival.”
The takeaway from this research is that work that you find most personally satisfying and that gives back to society can contribute to a longer and healthier life and may ultimately be one of the best ways to look after yourself. Fortunately, every community has countless volunteer opportunities that can be uncovered by a little research of your own.
That is how I arrived as a volunteer at the Classic Theatre Festival. Volunteering gives me another reason to get out and interact with the world. It means that I change my at-home leisure wear for something a little less informal. I apply a touch of makeup, fix my hair, and put on some pretty earrings. My presence at the theatre is needed and desired and this makes me feel good.
Volunteering with the Classic Theatre Festival allows me to indulge my love of live theatre. I get to see every production. I can engage with the actors and the many behind-the-scenes people who make these productions successful. It is an opportunity to discover another aspect of live theatre that most others do not get to experience.
I meet other volunteers of retirement age, like myself, and we compare notes on life. The theatre also has a contingent of young people of high school age. Talking with them, I get an interesting perspective of the world as they are experiencing it.
One of the theatre’s mandates is to make the theatre experience available to those who would not ordinarily attend the theatre. The Save-A-Seat program is funded through a 50-50 raffle draw and when I am working a performance you will see me volunteering to sell these tickets. The positive response to this program on the part of the theatregoers is heart-warming and I am aware that, in a small way, I am contributing to the program’s success and to the success of the theatre overall. I have been volunteering with the theatre for six years and you will see me there again this upcoming season.
By the way, in case you are wondering—yes, Classic Theatre Festival is looking for more volunteers. For further information on this opportunity, contact Matthew Behrens, Volunteer Coordinator, at (613) 264-8088, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our volunteer webpage: classictheatre.ca/volunteers-needed/