A Friend in the Neighborhood

This article was originally published in bulgariastories.com, and is reprinted here with permission.

A friend recently joined the Board of our neighborhood association, and brought with him some fresh new ideas and energy. His name is also Bruce, and he started referring to himself as Bruce-02, since I had been roped into — I mean motivated to join — the Board first. I call him 2 for short. He had tried unsuccessfully to retire from regular work several times, but kept being drawn back to his longtime career in academia. He finally managed to retire, though, but as his wife sadly noted he came down with a case of VD — Volunteer Disorder. He has found himself deeply involved in volunteer work, and seems to take on one thing after another. That was, oddly enough, how we had met a year or two ago, shoveling topsoil and mulch for a community garden.

2 made a suggestion that the neighborhood association do something to make people more aware of volunteer opportunities as a benefit to the community. He wrote an article on the topic (which you can see here) for our neighborhood website. It’s mostly local and very convenient. The response to it has been, shall we say, politely reserved. Crickets. It’s surprising how hard it is for our little elementary school to get people to come out and see the kids safely across the street; that’s the easiest, lowest-involvement job on the whole menu! Maybe people are saving up their strength for more challenging opportunities, such as mentoring a young teenager one-on-one, teaching a refugee family how to navigate Safeway, or going down to a storm-ravaged area to help clean up.

I remember years ago, when Stormy and I were in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, hearing a new volunteer brimming enthusiasm, “This is the Olympics of volunteering!” I liked that phrase, albeit a little too self-congratulatory from anyone other than one just out of training. It occurs to me now, poking at the analogy, that there is a whole rich and vital world of sport — with life-lifting excitement, growth, skill, challenge, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat — outside the Olympic arena. You don’t have to work and wait to make it to the greatest level of a sport in order to enjoy and benefit greatly from it. Wait, benefit? Who said anything about benefits? Isn’t volunteering supposed to be generously and selflessly giving of your time and talents? Wouldn’t it be kind of cheating to do it because it benefits you?

Aha! That’s the dirty little secret. The best volunteers do it because it benefits them. They get enjoyment, and satisfaction, and fulfillment, and even better health out of volunteering. (Don’t tell, or there goes that “selfless” image.)

The beneficial effects of volunteering have been studied and documented by the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Health, the Harvard School of Public Health, and others. Some of the findings seem useful and applicable to anyone’s life, even people who already have too much to do. As a reminder, before we start the list (compiled in no particular order from several sources),1 2 3 if something is both good and available, the best time to go after it is not maybe next month. It is now. So here we go.
Volunteering decreases the risk of depression, especially for older adults. This one is pretty easy to see: getting outside of yourself does wonders. Social interaction and participation in a support system can reduce or forestall depression.

Reduction in stress levels. Social interaction and the building of networks can buffer or outright alleviate stress, and a reduction in stress reduces risk of illness. The sense of meaning and appreciation that comes from positive interaction with others can have a stress-reducing effect.

Meeting new people and developing new relationships, by participating in shared activities together, helps you keep sharp in social skills with others. The network you build in sharing common interests can spill over into other areas of your life and lead to unanticipated benefits from relationships that would otherwise be unavailable.

Finally, quoting the Mayo Clinic article cited below — and this is a big one:

Volunteering may help you live longer. An analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.

My friend in the neighborhood hit on some pretty important ideas when he suggested that getting people to volunteer would be good for the community. Now we can see that it clearly has benefits for those who make volunteering a part of their lives. One good thing that can come from it, at the very least, is becoming a friend in the neighborhood.

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer Opportunities

Several Southern Gables Association members have asked about important activities for which they could volunteer their time, contribute money, or maybe just be aware. We have compiled a list of places where your contributions of time and talent can be applied. If you have some ideas to add to the list from your own experience, please provide descriptions and links about your recommended volunteer activities through our “Contact Us” page.

Organizations in the Southern Gables Neighborhood

  • Green Gables Elementary School needs crossing guards in the morning and afternoon. Call the school at 303-982-8314 to learn more and to volunteer.
  • Green Gables Elementary School also needs volunteers with greeting students in the hallways, helping students with homework and reading, other tutoring, library assistants, leading school clubs. Call the school office or contact Principal Suanne Hawley directly at suanne.hawley@jeffco.k12.co.us if you would like to help in any way.

Organizations in Lakewood and Jefferson County

  • CASA of Jefferson and Gilpin County supports volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children. Volunteers, who are assigned a case by the court, are always needed. These cases require a lot of effort. But there are many other ways to support CASA. More information at:

casajeffcogilpin.com
casajeffcogilpin.com/casa-volunteer

  • One World Running collects used-but-still-good-quality running shoes and other athletic equipment, cleans them, and sends to Africa to runners who need them. Drop off your used shoes at Boulder Running in Littleton near the southeast corner of Wadsworth and Bowles.

oneworldrunning.com

  • The Jefferson County Action Center works with the homeless and others that are struggling. More at:

theactioncenterco.org

  • Carmody Middle School has a need for volunteers to be “Watchdogs.” Watchdogs help with outside visibility and traffic issues before and after each school day. Additional Watchdogs will be especially useful starting in August 2018 as the 8th Grade is added. Library assistance and tutoring is always welcome. Call the school at 303-982-8930.
  • The Severe Weather Shelter Network has a Lakewood presence. They provide refuge on life-threatening winter nights for those living on the streets, and they help find permanent housing.

swshelternetwork.com

  • The Oasis Institute has a partnership with Jefferson County Schools, including Green Gables Elementary, to pair volunteer tutors with children in grades K-3 who teachers feel would benefit from a caring, one-on-one mentoring relationship. One child, one tutor, one school year.

oasisnet.org/About-Us
oasisnet.org/National-Programs/Intergenerational-Tutoring
oasisnet.org/National-Programs/Intergenerational-Tutoring/How-it-works

Organizations in the Denver Metro Area

  • Habitat for Humanity has many volunteer opportunities with some projects near our neighborhood.

habitatmetrodenver.org
habitatmetrodenver.org/get-involved/volunteer

  • The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has more volunteers than any museum in the country. There are many different interesting volunteer opportunities available.

dmns.org
dmns.org/join/volunteering

  • The African Community Center helps refugees rebuild safe, sustainable lives in the Denver Metro area.

acc-den.org
acc-den.org/volunteer

  • Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains is a faith-based, non-profit human service agency providing adoption, foster care, older adult caregiving, prevention, and refugee services.

lfsrm.org
lfsrm.org/get-involved

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters Colorado is always looking for adult volunteers to be matched up with at-risk kids. In addition, a new school-based program has been set up to match entire classrooms of students with one-on-one mentors interacting through monthly group meetings supplemented with electronic communications, with a structured curriculum. They pioneered “Mentor2.0” at our nearby Sheridan High School, and summertime is when they are looking for new volunteers for the coming school year.

BigLittleColorado.org (All Programs)
BigLittleColorado.org (Mentor2.0)