from Rev. Bruce Wood - December 2015

Published in News First — our monthly church newsletter  

The idea of being a volunteer is very familiar to many of us - of going out of our way to help someone else, is a matter of course for many of our people.

A “volunteer” is someone who contributes time to helping others with no expectation of pay or other material benefit to themselves - and in today’s busy world, it can be hard to find time to volunteer - or even a reason to do so.  However, volunteering to help others, even in small ways, can make a big difference to someone’s life, and to the life of the volunteer as well.  

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that about 35% of Australians volunteer at least once a year - some do just a few hours, while others who have the time and the inclination, volunteer as much as 400 or 500 hours per year.  Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together.

They go on to say that in 2010, 6.4 million people aged 18 years and over had undertaken some form of voluntary work in the previous 12 months - and that work was equivalent to 883 million hours - or an economic value of $15.2 billion of unpaid labour to the Australian economy.

People aged 45 to 54 years reported the highest rate of volunteering - at 44%.  Volunteer rates were noticeably lower in the major capital cities - 34% - where as rates in regional and rural areas were as high as 42%.  Nearly half of the volunteers have volunteered for more than 10 years and more than two-thirds of them report that at least one of their parents had also participated in voluntary work.  

However, the benefits and the contributions of volunteering are not restricted to financial gains to the economy or to organisations.  Volunteering is a two-way street - it can benefit the volunteer and their family, just as much as it benefits the cause they choose to assist.  Volunteering can be beneficial to a persons mental and physical health, by giving a healthy boost to their self-confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction - it can increase social inclusion, physical and psychological wellbeing and career opportunities.

Volunteering Australia’s research found that 95% of volunteers say that volunteering is related to feelings of wellbeing - they are happier, healthier and sleep better than those who don’t volunteer - they have a “helper’s high,” a powerful physical and emotional feeling experienced when directly helping other people - where just a few hours of volunteer work makes a difference in happiness and mood - sustained volunteering is associated with better mental health, and has a positive affect on the longevity of people who are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable activities.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners research also backs this up.  It says that people who volunteer their time and energies for the benefit of others, experience greater happiness and better health - they have less stress - they are better adjusted to life - they have fewer feelings of hopelessness - better coping skills - and longer life expectancy.  There is also a reduced risk of depression - as one of the key risk factor for depression is social isolation.  Volunteering keeps people in regular contact with others and helps them develop a solid support network, which in turn protects them against depression.

And as we get closer to Christmas, there are many opportunities to volunteer that can bring joy, and hope, to the lives of other people - and if you look a bit further, you will find that there are many other longer term opportunities to make a significant contribution to empowering individuals, in fostering active citizenship, and in building inclusive and resilient communities in which we can all flourish.  It is also a great way to live out our Christian belief - by living the compassion, and joy, and grace that we profess to believe.