OPINION: Beat the blues: Volunteering full of health benefits

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Laura Grimm

grimmla@mnstate.edu

If you want to live longer, you should volunteer.

I grew up volunteering. Whether it was through church or school or just my mom’s insistence, I volunteered about 60 hours a year. Then, when I came to college, I stopped.

I had planned to volunteer, of course. I just didn’t have time. And I didn’t have a car, so that meant it took even longer to get anywhere, infringing on the small amount of time I did have. It was too much of a hassle. And really, I had to focus on my classes and work and friends and extracurriculars.

What do these sound like? Excuses.

I wanted to volunteer, but I wasn’t motivated enough to seek out places unless it was required for a class or club.

This past week, I volunteered at the Dorothy Day Food Pantry. I wish I could say it was out of the goodness of my heart, but it wasn’t. It was because I had to for a grade.

Still, it was the highlight of my day. Jim, the food pantry director, is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. He was so excited about how many families we helped, even though it meant we were constantly busy since there were fewer volunteers than normal. He jumped up to help anyone with anything, a smile on his face the entire time.

This isn’t too surprising. Researchers at the London School of Economics found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. According to this study, weekly volunteering can lead to spikes in happiness levels comparable to salary boosts.

Additionally, the Corporation for National Community Service found that people who routinely volunteer live longer and have better physical and mental health, especially for older individuals.

In short, volunteering helps you, too. If you’ve ever volunteered, chances are you’ve experienced that euphoric feeling that comes from helping someone. Stressed college students can especially benefit, with some research claiming as many as one in five college students suffer from depression or anxiety.

Nicknamed the “activism cure,” volunteering can help victims recover from traumatic experiences because they feel more in control of their lives. They realize that they have the power to help others, contrasting with the powerless feeling that often accompanies traumatic experiences and mental health issues.

Everyone chooses to volunteer for different reasons.

Want to make a difference in your community? Volunteer. Feeling sad? Volunteer. Suddenly single with a lot of free time? Volunteer—often.

There are plenty of opportunities both on and off campus. Some MSUM groups, like Cru and Students Today, Leaders Forever (STLF), spent their entire spring breaks volunteering. Other volunteering-based groups include Love Your Melon and Dance Marathon.

If you’re graduating or want to volunteer more regularly, there are dozens of organizations in the Fargo-Moorhead area that are always looking for volunteers. I personally recommend the Dorothy Day Food Pantry, but if you want to help out with some other causes, here are just a few of the places that benefit the local community:

• American Red Cross

• Big Brothers Big Sisters

• Cat’s Cradle

• Churches United for the

Homeless

• Dorothy Day House

Shelter and Food Pantry

• Elim Care

• FM Coalition for

Homeless Persons

• Great Plains Food Bank

• Pink it Forward

• Ronald McDonald House

of the Red River Valley

• United Way of Cass-Clay

• YMCA and YWCA

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