Millions of Americans give freely of their time and energy to help lift their communities, and while they ask for nothing in return, science tells us those altruistic volunteers may reap valuable rewards: better physical and mental health.
Research shows that participation in voluntary services often leads to better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and happiness, and fewer symptoms of depression, psychological distress, mortality, and lack of motivation.
“Volunteering is not a panacea, but it can be a strand in the overall fabric of wellness along with good nutrition, exercise, and preventive care,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health at Capital Blue Cross. “Employers can play a large role in promoting such opportunities for their employees to increase their level of physical and mental wellness.”
Capital Blue Cross, for example, operates a robust employee volunteer program that makes volunteering easy. It provides employee volunteer grants of $500 to more than 30 employee-chosen nonprofits each year, and honors its volunteers annually in a special ceremony.
Just recently, Capital introduced paid volunteer time off, a policy that allows each employee to volunteer for two half days a year with full pay.
Capital’s support and encouragement of volunteerism is part of the reason the company was ranked among the top 100 Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania for the fourth straight year, according to Jodi Woleslagle, Capital’s senior vice president of human resources.
“We work hard here to create a supportive, progressive, compassionate work culture,” Woleslagle said. “We want to be a place where people enjoy coming to work each day, and know that their company cares about them. That is a critical element in Capital’s ongoing success.”
According to the American Psychological Association, volunteerism can create a sense of purpose for people and connect them to enriching opportunities and experiences. Anecdotal feedback from volunteers seems to support the science.
“I get to see smiles on the faces of those who have had very little, or who are in a bad place,” said Capital employee Dinene Quick. She volunteers with Sisters Sharing Talents, a nonprofit that knits and crochet hats, blankets, gloves, and scarves for the needy in the Harrisburg area. “It is amazing how much joy a homemade scarf can produce,” Quick said.
Kim Wartluft, another longtime Capital employee, volunteers with the South Central Pennsylvania Vulcan Riders Association, a nonprofit motorcycle club. Each Easter, club members roar up to area hospitals to deliver stuffed animals to sick and recovering kids in local hospitals. “I love seeing the kids’ faces light up,” Wartluft said.