Its True! A Healthy Life and Volunteering Are Connected
Many earlier studies have showed the health benefits of social interaction, especially for older Americans. Most typically the social interaction comes about as a result of volunteer activities. People volunteer and meet other volunteers, clients, members, patients, and the like, and that interaction appears to have health benefits. Along comes a study that looks exclusively at older volunteers and the impact it has on their physical and mental health. The New York Times (April 13, 2004) carried the results of a study conducted by Dr. Linda P. Fried at the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University.
The two-year study applied the rigorous techniques of a clinical trial to determine if mental and physical health was improved for seniors serving in the Experience Corps. The Experience Corps is retired volunteers working with children in the Baltimore city schools to help with such things as reading, math and social skills. The experimental group was 128 participants, primarily African-American females between ages 60 and 86. There was a control group of non-volunteers. The study showed a significant improvement in the physical activity, social interaction, and cognitive stimulation of the volunteer group.
At the end of the two years, 44% of the participants in the Experience Corps reported feeling stronger, compared with 18% of the non-volunteers. The volunteers reported a 31% increase in the number of blocks they walked each day, compared to the non-volunteers who reported a 9% decrease in walking.
Socially, the volunteers reported a 16.7% increase in the number of people they felt they could turn to for help, compared to a 25.3% decrease for the control group of non-volunteers. TV viewing declined by 4% for the volunteers, increasing by 18% for the non-volunteers.
A Diversifying America
By 2050 the population of the United States will grow increasingly diverse in its racial make-up. In 1995, non-Hispanic whites made up 74% of the population, Hispanic whites 9%, Black 13%, Native American 1%, and Asian 4%. By 2050 it will be 53% non-Hispanic white, Hispanic white 22%, Black 15%, Native American 1%, and Asian 9%. This change in less than 50 years requires increasing skills in cultural competency.
Cultural competency comes in a variety of forms, but certainly racial awareness is high on the list. Volunteer programs benefit from the involvement of those from different racial and cultural groups. It aids in reaching out to formerly underserved racial groups, serves as a model for everyone in the organization, and improves cross-cultural exchange. It can be the ultimate in civic involvement for volunteers and staff.
An excellent place to begin is with the racial profile of the geographic area your organization serves. Then profile the current pool of volunteers and paid staff. Look at percentages to see if your organizational workforce matches the population by percentage. If not, it is time to do some serious planning to change the "look" of the organization.
Another way to determine the cultural competency of a volunteer program is by weighing the level of "ignoracism" in the workplace. "Ignoracism is the feigned indifference to the reality of race and its continuing impact on the social fabric of society," according to Nat Irvin. In an article on "Thrivals, the new generation of African-Americans," Irvin points out that while overt racist behavior is no longer acceptable in the work place, ignoracism is alive and well.
Ignoracism is the bastion of those who place themselves above overt racist behavior, but lead lives that limit the ethnic and cultural variety of people with whom they choose to interact. The ignoracist interacts with people who look the same as they do, behave in a similar manner, and share the same values and beliefs. It impacts where people live, shop, socialize, whom they marry, and where they worship.
Irvin's view is that ignoracism allows a person to stand a notch above the degrading level of overt racism, often with a sense of self-satisfaction. The difficulty is that ignoracism brings with it both personal and legal challenges. A tenet of human growth is to fight against our own tendencies to exclude. A willingness to move beyond the comfort zone and encourage others to do the same can be a satisfying personal development.
"The Arrival of the Thrivals," Nat Irvin II, The Futurist, March-April 2004
Answer Key to Word Usage quiz on the Training page.
Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Building Better Relationships with Volunteers by Nan Hawthorne and Volunteer Recruiting & Retention, A Marketing Approach, by author and managing editor Nancy Macduff. For more information, check out these books and more at our online bookstore.
DAILY POINTS OF LIGHT AWARD FORMS AVAILABLE
The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.
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