I’m your leading example. I’ve never been a “joiner.” But I found my niche as a volunteer when I responded to an ad by the Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest Centre.
I participated in a number of memory studies over about a year. Each involved an afternoon at Baycrest and live and computer-based memory tests. This worked for me because I was one on one with the researcher. I didn’t have to commit to a long-term involvement with a bunch of other volunteers or staff. It also tied into training I’d had in psychological profiling, my work as an advertising creative person and an exhibition project on meditation that a friend of mine was developing.
My volunteering has paid off in so many ways.
From a casual remark by one of the researchers who was testing me, I made contact with a neuroscientist at Baycrest who was conducting a study on meditation. I invited him for coffee with the friend who is working on the meditation exhibit. The three of us now have a continuing relationship. For me, that amounts to living better because my circle of friends has enlarged and I am learning new things about the mind.
There’s more than one kind of volunteering for seniors
The way I prefer to volunteer is called “informal helping” and it works well for me. Many people prefer more formal volunteering. That involves a longer-term commitment and consistent engagement. The important thing is to find an opportunity that works for you.
I’d be a flop at a formal, long-term, social kind of commitment, but I come alive with a short-term, one-on-one responsibility. That’s the kind of volunteering that leaves me feeling happier.
Be careful how much you commit to do
Yes, volunteering generally adds to the quality of your own life. But like all things, be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want overextend yourself. Nor do you want to let down the people you’ve committed to help. There is actually research that shows volunteering does improve well-being, but too much volunteering reduces it.
How to get started volunteering
It’s always best to start with things and places that you know. If there’s a retirement home or hospital near you that you’re interested in volunteering with, contact them and ask if they have a volunteer program and how to get involved. Check out the North York General Hospital Volunteer page or the Mount Sinai Hospital volunteer page to get an idea of what to expect.
If you have a feeling for animals, contact a local rescue group (many breeds have rescue groups that focus just on that breed. Golden Rescue, for example, focuses on Golden Retrievers)
You can also do a Google search. Type in something such as, “Volunteering in Toronto” and see how much comes up. Reputable organizations usually have a page on their website – such as Second Harvest does – where volunteer opportunities are listed and explained.
Unfortunately there are companies and organizations that may take unfair advantage of volunteers – another reason to stick with well-known organizations, or ones that you have been referred to by someone you trust.
If you have special skills or experience – you’re a retired teacher, for example – you may want to volunteer for a literacy organization. If you’ve been through and survived a serious illness, you may find a way to give back to society by working with the organization that speaks for that disease. Or you can volunteer for drug testing or, as I did, for brain-performance studies.
I doubt that there’s an animal shelter – even beyond the animal rescue organizations – that isn’t short of volunteers. Other than the obvious larger shelters, there are many small community shelters too.
Just start searching, send an email or make a phone call, meet with the appropriate person and find out if there’s a volunteering match for you. You may just open the door to some wonderful new experiences!