Volunteering & Its Health Benefits

Southern Illinois has a new program that helps people give back to their local communities. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Project of Southern Illinois (or RSVP of SI) pairs volunteers with projects that mentor and tutor students, deliver hot meals from senior centers and food pantries to senior adults, and serve as companions to homebound seniors among many other areas of concern.

According to AARP, new research shows that volunteers age 55 and over are enjoying health benefits after just one year of volunteer service, including decreases in anxiety depression, loneliness, and social isolation. Older volunteers also report enhanced physical capacity and higher life satisfaction.

Seventy percent of the volunteers who initially reported five or more symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms at the end of the first year of volunteering. Additionally, 63 percent of volunteers who initially indicated three or four symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms after one year. These findings are preliminary, but they support a larger body of research that highlights the positive impact that volunteering has, particularly among older adults. These research results are a valuable addition to the conversation on healthy aging.

Although RSVP of SI caters mainly to people age 55 and over, anyone age 18 and over can enroll in local volunteer projects using the program. By calling 618.985.8311, ext. 113, potential volunteers and organizations needing volunteers can obtain more information about the benefits of volunteering.

RSVP of SI is a program funded through Senior Corps, which is led by the Corporation for National and Community Service (or CNCS), a federal agency for service, volunteering, and civic engagement. CNCS launched two longitudinal research studies in 2015 that assess the impact of service programs.

Volunteers develop intense and ongoing relationships with the people they serve in their community, according to CNCS spokesperson Samantha Jo Warfield. Researchers found that 67 percent of Senior Corps volunteers who at first reported they often lack companionship stated that they had improved social connections after volunteering for a year.

For information about services and volunteering through RSVP of SI, call the Egyptian Area Agency on Aging at 888.895.3306, ext. 113 and on Facebook.com/RSVPofSI.

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