Two New Reasons to Volunteer

When most people think about volunteering, they think about how it helps improve lives in the community. However, two new research studies underscore the critical role volunteering plays in improving lives…of the volunteers themselves.

A recent study from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, found teenagers who participate in volunteer activities on their own may be less likely to commit crimes as adults. In fact, it showed that teenagers who volunteer had 31 percent fewer arrests and fewer convictions than those who do not volunteer, and the trend continues as they grew older.

Even those who are required to volunteer, rather than choosing to do so, have fewer arrests and convictions as adults than those who did not volunteer in their youth. Why is this?

The researchers suggest that as teens engage in self-empowering activities like volunteering, they develop a sense of moral and social responsibility that deters criminal activity.

Volunteers also gain the upper hand in the job market. According to research commissioned by Oxfam, which relies on volunteers to staff its shops, 80 percent of employers are more likely to hire an applicant with volunteer experience. It turns out bosses think volunteers have better social skills and work harder than other job applicants.

Such employability is part of the reason why effective organizations embrace a culture of philanthropy. Elliott Davis Decosimo fosters a work environment for employees to get involved in their community, whether through a financial donation or volunteer opportunity. Every office connects professional staff members to an organization they are passionate about and encourages them to hold a board seat or leadership role to build professional and community development.

“Our impact reached farther in 2016 than it ever has,” said Richard Battle (Office Managing Shareholder). “Our Charlotte and Raleigh offices volunteered nearly 5,000 hours in their communities as tutors, treasurers, financial coaches and board members. Supporting our communities through United Way’s influence has made a positive impact on our region and also to the important success and development of our people.”

The benefits described in these recent studies compliment earlier studies showing that volunteering is good for physical, mental and emotional health. Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) has found this to be especially true among physicians battling burnout.

As part of a newly developed wellness curriculum, the Internal Medicine (IM) residency program at Carolinas HealthCare System sought to promote physician well-being and prevent burnout by exploring ways to make community volunteer work more accessible to residents and their already busy schedules.

Shortly after the launch of the curriculum, the IM residency program partnered with United Way of Central Carolinas and Salvation Army’s Center of Hope to bring volunteer opportunities directly to work. During a noon conference lunch hour, CHS residents assembled dozens of “care packs” and “hygiene packages” to be donated to the Center of Hope. Included in these were hand written notes of inspiration directed to the recipients.

“Volunteerism provides an opportunity to impact our community,” said Todd Gandy, chief resident of Internal Medicine at Carolinas HealthCare, “and is also a powerful means to promote wellness and resiliency within our industry.”

Onsite volunteer projects have been adopted by many businesses throughout Charlotte. Hands On Charlotte, the volunteer arm of United Way of Central Carolinas, partners with companies to plan and implement volunteer projects based on their needs.

To help more TIAA employees get involved in supporting local schools, United Way of Central Carolinas recently hosted a Tiny Library build on the TIAA campus. The result: 125 employees were able to help build the libraries in multiple phases throughout the day, while hundreds of others – from various locations across the community – participated in a virtual book drive to fill the libraries with 1,300 new books for nearby CMS schools.

From establishing moral and social responsibility to maintaining a healthy work life balance, volunteerism encourages a positive impact on each individual volunteer.

Published in the Charlotte Business Journal: April 2017

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