By: Doa Jamal, Francis College of Engineering Well-being Leader
Volunteering is something that many of us do because we feel required to do it, occasionally it may even be mandatory. Some high schools require all their students to get a certain number of service hours and for those in the National Honors Society, community service hours are mandatory as well. Additionally, students are aware that community service hours are looked at and evaluated for college and graduate school applications. So, while many people volunteer with the mindset of “it’s something I’m doing because I have to”, and “I’d probably not be here if I had a choice”, it is important to consider the many benefits of volunteering.
One common reason that people volunteer is to give back to the community. Participating in community service connects you to others. It connects you to your community, to your neighbors, you meet new people, make new friends, and broaden your social network. One of my closest college friends is someone I met during a volunteering day hosted by the UML Muslim Students Association. Volunteering at the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence, MA connected me to many of the homeless population in the Greater Lawrence area, who are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In January, I went on a humanitarian/community service trip to Kenya through a non-profit organization (Helping Hands for Relief and Development) and had a great time with a group of ten girls. The trip connected me to residents of Nairobi and Malindi and how they live in poverty, with many women and children living in a household without a man. We visited the Mukuru slum in Nairobi where more than 400,000 people live in one-room houses with no electricity, no running water, no light, and the ground covered in sewage and trash. Nairobi also has the Kibera slum, which has a population of more than 2.5 million living in the worst conditions. In the villages of Malindi, there has been a drought for more than 3 years and people are struggling to survive. We passed out food packages and water to more than 300 families. International service trips like this are crucial so that we don’t forget about the situations that other people are going through.
Volunteering is healthy for the mind and body. Volunteering is a feel-good activity that gives you the warm fuzzies. Doing community service counteracts the effects of stress, anger, anxiety, and depression. Volunteering regularly with the same people can provide you with a support system. Scientists have discovered that being helpful to others brings people significant pleasure and results in happy hormones being delivered to the brain. Volunteering gives you a sense of accomplishment and so can boost your self-confidence. Doing service can also give you a purpose which helps when battling depression. Finally, volunteering helps you stay physically fit. Most volunteering opportunities involve movement and physical labor. This can be anything from sorting through donated clothes for an organization like Nu-Day Syria which sends donations to countries in need, serving tables at a meal center like Cor Unum, to lifting heavy bags of food to hand out to villagers in Kenya. Research has found that the mortality rate is lower for those who volunteer.
Although volunteering is important, it should not feel like a chore. You do not have to volunteer regularly if you can not, and you don’t have to volunteer for many hours a week if you can not. The most benefits will be reaped if you do it as something you enjoy.
To find a place to volunteer, reach out to organizations you are aware of, places in your community, or ask your friends if they volunteer somewhere and join them!
If you’re looking for an opportunity to volunteer on campus, you may want to try out Alternative Spring Break. For more information, you can email my supervisor, Hannah_Monbleau@uml.edu