Today's Seniors, Be a Volunteer for the Holidays

There's a lot that can be done between now and the end of December to help others enjoy the holiday season. Give the gift of yourself this holiday season—and during the coming year—by volunteering. Whether it be recording for the blind, staffing the help desk at your local library, or delivering Meals on Wheels, you can make a difference in the quality of life we all enjoy—and your contribution will be appreciated.

As a volunteer, you'll benefit as well. Not only will volunteering help you feel good about yourself, it will enlarge your world, exposing you to people and ideas that you would not have encountered in the normal course of your activities.

Recent scientific findings suggest that volunteering may even help you live longer. A study conducted by researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Stanford University assessed the health and social functioning of 7,527 American people age 70 or older. The researchers found that people who volunteered frequently had a 19 percent reduction in mortality risk, compared to those who never volunteered.

A study by faculty members at the University of Michigan supported this hypothesis. They surveyed 1,211 adults over 65 in 1986 and checked up on them eight years later. The subjects who volunteered at least 40 hours each year to a single cause were 40 percent more likely than nonvolunteers to be alive and well at the end of study. The trend held even when researchers took differences in the two groups' incomes, health, and number of weekly social interactions into account.

If you're interested in volunteering, a good place to start is to ask your neighbors and friends. Staff members at your local Sunrise Senior Living community are also good sources, especially if you're interested in volunteering for a cause that involves seniors.

Your church, synagogue, mosque, or local community center can be an excellent resource. You can also find volunteer opportunities in the telephone directory under the headings "volunteer centers," "volunteer action centers," "volunteer bureau," or "United Way."

But whatever you choose, be sure to give yourself a trial period before making a commitment. You'll enjoy volunteering if you feel motivated by the goals of the organization, if you are challenged by the work you're asked to do, and if you enjoy the people you're working with.