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Volunteering offers many benefits to you, the volunteer, as well as those being served.

Key to making the most of contributing your time and effort is finding the right volunteer opportunity that fits your skills, free time, and your physical and emotional abilities. You can even volunteer on the Internet without leaving your home by being a "virtual volunteer."

Volunteering doesn't have to be formal, such as for an organization or a formalized activity. Perhaps, you could just help a friend, neighbor or fellow support group member who has a need. You could even show up at just about any non-profit and they'll give you something to do that would help.

If you can do research and/or write, consider volunteering to help us develop and add more useful information. Call 212.586.5600 or write: Survivorship A to Z.

Before you begin to volunteer, understand the rules about any government or private benefits you receive to make sure that volunteering doesn't affect them.

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There Are Many Benefits To Volunteering

Most people think of volunteering only as a way to help others, but the experience can also be of great personal benefit.

Volunteering can have a tremendous positive impact on your mental health and attitude. Volunterring can help find hope and healing through helping others and make you feel stronger and more in control. Research also indicates that altruistic behavior such as volunteering stimulates the same primitive reward center as sex and food.

Studies have also shown that volunteering promotes health and longevity, especially for people who might be socially isolated.

If you volunteer for your local or national disease specific non-profit organization you will help others with the same condition as yourself. In addition, you will be in a position to learn first hand about all the resources the organization offers. You might also be at an advantage if you need assistance from that organization.

And then there's the adage to consider: "You make a living by what you earn. You make a life by what you give."

Don't Volunteer Beyond Your Physical Or Emotional Ability

Be sure to volunteer only if you are physically and emotionally able.

Match the type and amount of volunteer work you do to your current available energy.

Before starting, consult with your doctor to make sure you don't overdo it.

NOTE: You can do volunteer work from home over the internet which can be an easy way to volunteer and not expend too much energy. See below.

Consider The Cost That May Be Involved With Volunteering

There may be costs that people don't normally think about. For instance, the cost of transportation to and from where you volunteer, or the expense of eating near there, or even the expense of using your own telephone.

Note that the costs you incur may be tax deductible. To learn more see: Tax.

Volunteering Can Help Make A Return To Work Easier

If you are not working, whether it is because you are out of a job, a student or currently on disability and planning to return to work, volunteering can make the transition to work much easier.

  • Contacts you make at your volunteer organization, and the organization itself, can help you in your job search.
  • The time you spend volunteering can help to bridge gaps in your resume created by time on disability. (You don't have to indicate on your resume that a volunteer position was not a paying job!)
  • Volunteering full-time, you can test your readiness for a return to full-time work.

If You're Working, Volunteering Can Help Keep Your Current Skills Sharp Or Give You The Chance To Learn New Skills.

Check To See Whether Volunteering Can Cause You To Lose Private Or Governmental Benefits

While most private insurance disability policies and governmental programs permit volunteer activities, check your own policy and/or government program just in case.

The question often arises whether the fact that a person is able to spend a lot of time volunteering, often 9-5, is proof that the person is no longer to be considered to be "disabled" and thus benefits terminated. Generally, working for a charity without pay is not overriding evidence that you are no longer "disabled," since a volunteer does not have the same obligations (particularly that you are not obligated to show up, much less for the hours you do), stress, and demands associated with work for-pay. However, an investigator may use such extensive volunteer time as evidence that you are no longer "disabled" within the definition of the government program or private policy.

If your volunteer work begins to be full-time over an extended period, check with your attorney to determine if it might impact your benefits.

Assess Your Volunteering Preferences

Before you attempt to choose a specific organization to work for, ask yourself the following:

What cause is important to me?

Some people get a lot of satisfaction out of helping others with the same condition. Other people prefer to use their volunteer work to distract them from thinking about their own illness. If this is the case, think about what other causes you would like to help.

Do I want to use my current skills, or learn something different?

Volunteering can be an inexpensive way to learn new skills.

If you use your diagnosis as a wake-up call or if you're just ready for a change, are there additional skills you want to learn?

Do I want to use my volunteering to further my job or career or to help me find a better job? If I'm not working, do I want to use volunteering to help me find a job?

If you are working, volunteering can be a way to use your current skills to help others. You can also learn new skills to apply at your paying job.

If you are not working and planning on returning to a career similar to that which you left, consider volunteering someplace where you can sharpen and update your skills and keep your knowledge current.

If you are planning on a career change or not going back to work, volunteering can be a way to learn something totally new and exciting.

What do I want to do, and what don't I want to do, as a volunteer?

Catalog the types of work you would like to do, as well as those you prefer NOT to do. You can then negotiate assignments with your volunteer supervisor.

Do I want an ongoing assignment, a short-term assignment, or a one-time assignment?

Volunteer positions vary in duration. What best suits your availability and energy level? If you're interested in a certain agency, do they have a one-day fund-raising event you can get involved in to get your feet wet before deciding to commit to that group?

Do I want to work from home?

There are many volunteering opportunities from home. For example, you could do research, graphic design, write grant proposals or write materials (including for us!). In addition to a computer, you'll need internet connection.

Do I want to work alone or with a group? With what kind of people do I want to work?

Thinking about these questions in advance will help you maximize the social benefits of volunteering. Do you see your volunteer time as a break from a hectic household, an opportunity to make new friends, or some thing else entirely?

Volunteering From Home

Thanks to the internet, you can often volunteer for a cause you care about by staying home. One way is by working on your computer. This is often known as "virtual volunteering."

As a virtual volunteer:

  • You can help any organization you like, using your skills and expertise - including your typing ability.
  • The organization can be in any part of the country - or even in another part of the world.

On the downside, you don't meet people face-to-face. This may be offset by being in touch by e mail and phone calls. WIth an inexpensive video set up, you can see other people. For example, through Skype: offsite link.

You can find a position that works for you through web-based groups that link volunteers with the nonprofit organizations that need volunteers. For example (in alphabetical order):

How To Find A Volunteering Opportunity

Once you decide on the type of volunteer work you would like to do, and where you might want to do it, you are ready to look for a volunteer position.

Start by checking with your local or national disease specific nonprofit organization or other local agencies. 

AARP has created "Create The Good" where volunteers and nonprofits can connect on line. See: offsite link

You can also easily find volunteer ads on the Internet. Some good places to start your online search are the following sites which match people to need by zip code, type and area of interest:

AARP's Connect The Good Network offsite link connects people with local volunteer opportunities for organizations. 

Many cities have a municipal office for volunteers that can help guide you to the right organization.

For advice on finding virtual volunteering opportunities, see: offsite link

If you have additional sites people should know about, please e mail Survivorship A to Z.