Do Good, Feel Good!

By GHI Communications Staff

Regardless of religious beliefs, most societies emphasize the obligation to “love thy neighbor.” Large-scale organizations such as the Peace Corp, Samaritans Purse and the Salvation Army were built upon the ideal of helping your fellow man (and woman!). Well beyond these outstanding organizations, millions of individuals volunteer their time in large and small ways every day to help people in need. Those receiving help from the kindness of friends and strangers benefit greatly. And research shows that those volunteering their time also benefit… both physically and mentally.

UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch recently released a report that surveyed 2,705 volunteers age 18 and older and found that 75 percent of those who volunteered in the past year said it made them feel “physically healthier.” And 34 percent of those who volunteered found participating helped them to manage their chronic illnesses, compared to those who have not volunteered in the past 12 months.

They also found other mental and emotional benefits to spending your free time helping others: 93 percent of people reported an improved mood; 79 percent reported lower stress levels and 88 percent reported increased self-esteem by giving back.

Similarly, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency overseeing Senior Corp, launched two longitudinal studies in 2015 that assess the impact of service on their Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs. Researchers found:

  • Almost two-thirds of Senior Corps volunteers reported a decrease in feelings of isolation, and 67 percent of those who first reported they “often” lack companionship stated that they had improved social connections. 
  • Seventy percent of volunteers who initially reported five or more symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms at the end of the first year.
  • Sixty-three percent of volunteers who initially indicated three or four symptoms of depression reported fewer symptoms after one year. 

The research also goes beyond our emotional well-being. A new study by Indiana University’s Sumedha Gupta discovered that those who did volunteer work for 100 hours a year — a mere two hours a week — scored about 6 percent higher in cognitive testing than non-volunteers.

These data don’t surprise 86 year-old Goodwin House resident Dottie Moser. “There is no doubt in my mind that volunteering makes me want to get up in the morning and do something worthwhile,” Moser said. “I know in my heart I have the ability to make a difference, and that makes me happy.” 

As the Co-Chair of the Community Services Committee (CSC) at Goodwin House, Ms. Moser certainly makes a big difference. Their committee is one of the most active, with volunteer activities happening regularly both inside and outside the Goodwin House walls.

Goodwin House residents volunteered 4,590 hours in their local communities in an effort to help improve the lives of others. These activities include:

  • Grandinvolve – A project of Fairfax County Schools for mentoring at Parklawn Elementary School
  • Arlington County Schools – Activities involve mentoring Dreamers (DACA students), tutoring Arlington Community High School students, in-language assistance for parents of Even Start students at Barcroft
  • Clothing Collection for Goodwill Industries
  • Box Tops for Education
  • Knit for Kids – Activities include knitting sweaters and blankets for World Vision.
  • Culmore Clinic – Volunteers from GHBC assist in setting up the clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays at a church on Glen Carlin Drive. Collect dental supplies.

“We have so many opportunities for residents to get involved,” said Donna Cornman, co-chair of the CSC. “Personally, my favorite volunteer opportunity is the service projects we do with residents of the second and third floors at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads.”

Over 2500 sweaters, blankets and caps have been knitted by the Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads Knit for Kids Group and delivered to over 20 countries!

The second and third floors are home to those residents who need assisted living, memory care and nursing care.

“Every Friday, members of the CSC work with these residents to stuff “powerpacks” of food for local elementary school kids, prepare net bags of produce for the Arlington Food Assistance Center or create dental kits for the Culmore Clinic,” Ms. Cornman continued. “Not only are we doing something great for our community, we are also providing a social outlet for those residents that are unable to get out as much. It’s a win-win!”

Some of the financial support for supplies needed by the CSC is provided by the Goodwin House Foundation, which is indicative of a broader commitment to community accountability that runs throughout the organization. In fact, the Goodwin House Board of Trustees has adopted a formal, written Community Accountability Plan to guide and monitor outreach efforts.

“Community support is at the heart of what we do,” stated Holly Hanisian, director of corporate administration at Goodwin House. “Our mission is to ‘support, honor, and uplift’ older adults, their families and caregivers. As a nonprofit charitable organization and member of the Northern Virginia community, we take that mission to heart for all of our community members, not only those who receive services from Goodwin House.”

Ms. Moser appreciates the support she and her committee receives from the Goodwin House Administration.

“When I have an idea of ways we can help our community, they just say ‘Go for it, Dottie!’

It is important for both Ms. Moser and Ms. Cornman to ensure that newcomers to Goodwin House know all the volunteer opportunities available. It is a great way to meet others, stay active, and, as the research reports, remain healthy.

Perhaps Booker T. Washington was right. In his autobiographical work, Up from Slavery, he noted that “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” In other words, those that do good, feel good!