By Tara Pratt

Have you ever thought about volunteering? There is always a need for service and more helping hands. Volunteering offers help to worthwhile causes, the community, and to people in need. And not only is it a great way to help others, but it’s also a good way to help yourself. The gift of volunteering your time comes with other rewards
 According to a study from the Corporation for National & Community Service, people who volunteer demonstrate a lower mortality rate, an increase in functional ability, and lower rates of depression than their non-volunteering counterparts. Volunteering can also promote mental wellbeing by increasing self-confidence and creating a sense of pride and identity that’s beneficial for meeting new people and sharing your personal values.
Recently, I’ve been revisiting the world of volunteering. I participated in The Anxiety Relief Center’s annual beach clean-up, donated my time & ran 6 miles in Race Against Mental Health Stigma, as well as became an active member of Habitat for Humanity. All of these experiences have put me in touch with nature, which is a big mood-booster for me. Through Habitat for Humanity I’ve learned new skills, such as gardening and construction with power tools; I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in these new capabilities. Volunteering has also provided the opportunity to meet new people. I feel a new sense of connection with others who have similar interests, as well as made friends with people that I may have otherwise never crossed paths with.  I feel incredibly lucky to have come into contact with these inspiring individuals.  Each time I get involved in a cause, I’m left feeling hopeful, awakened, and rewarded.
Would you like to give back to a cause?  Here are some tips to get you started.
  • Set clear goals: Get specific. Try committing to a certain amount of volunteer time, like 2 – 3 hours per month, as a starting point.
  • Think short-term (at least at the beginning): Long-term commitments can sometimes deter us from volunteering. But a quick online search for one-day volunteering opportunities near you can show you lots of options. Check out Habitat for Humanity’s online calendar at
  • Plan ahead: Like other events, volunteer opportunities become more real to us when we schedule them. Use your calendar and make a plan—booking volunteer work on weekends or holidays. To add to the experience, consider finding joint volunteer opportunities on days off shared with your family or loved ones, who can join you.  When we plan with others, we tend to be more accountable. Here’s a few more organizations to check out when planning your volunteer experience:  
  •   (San Francisco AIDS Foundation)
  • Check with your company: Many companies foster volunteering, and have already partnered with organizations to make the process easier.
  • Volunteer virtually: The technology of our world enables us to volunteer our time and skills without having to leave our homes.  Staffing a crisis hotline, administrative tasks, or replying to emails, for example, are a few ways you can support a cause from your couch. If virtual seems like the way for you, try IdealistVolunteerMatch, or for ideas.
When you volunteer, choose opportunities that allow you to use the skills that bring you a sense of joy or involve experiences you find fulfilling. You might find that giving of your time is not only easier, but also habit forming. Be selfless, if only for selfish reasons.