Give a Little, Get a Lot: What Volunteering Offers to Widows

Q. A friend of mine, a widow like myself, volunteers at a soup kitchen every year at holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m thinking of joining her, but I’ve never volunteered before. What do you think?

A Chinese proverb advises, “If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.” I’ve found that to be true and I know many other widows who have added meaning to their lives through volunteer work at museums, schools, libraries, parks, helplines, organizations like the Red Cross and United Way, and other community services. Women feel comfortable collecting, preparing and serving food, fundraising, and teaching adults or children. As we age, we tend to volunteer for activities connected with religion, and churches and other places of worship.

“It’s in women’s DNA to give back and to give to others. We care for our families,” says Abbie J. Von Schlegell, CFRE, an expert on women and volunteering, who will teach a course on the subject this summer. “Volunteering is very much a part of American culture. Women volunteer at a higher rate (28 percent) than men (22 percent),” she adds.

Helping others not only nourishes our society, it benefits us in significant ways. For example, volunteering boosts self-esteem and promotes personal growth, a particular advantage for widows who have been all tied up in their husbands’ lives in the past. It offers a chance to learn how to do something you’ve never tried before, and gain professional experience that looks great on your resume, such as acquiring a new skill like computers or speechwriting—or upgrading skills you already have. If you want to change careers, volunteering may be a way to get started.

Research by the Corporation for National and Community Services found that unemployed volunteers in general had a 27 percent higher chance of finding a job than non-volunteers. Those who lacked a high school degree were 51 percent more likely than non-volunteers to get a job, and volunteers in rural areas were 55 percent more likely to find paid work.

Contributing your time and effort also relieves stress and is healthy. Making new friends as you work with other volunteers is an added bonus.

There are an astonishing number of choices in volunteer activities, covering a range of goals, interests and time commitments. For further information on what’s available in your area, check out Serve.gov and other websites. (Just type “volunteering” in your search engine.)

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If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist,author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest SympathiesWhen the Man You Love Is Ill,What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.

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Comment by Florence Isaacs on January 4, 2015 at 9:45am

I'm so glad to hear this, Trina.  I think one of the secrets of happiness is helping others.  And today there are so many ways to do it.

Comment by Trina Mamoon on December 28, 2014 at 8:06pm

Thank you for this thoughtful piece. The night before my husband passed, I asked him how I would go on living without him for the rest of my life (perhaps another 20-25 years). My beloved husband told me that I will go on living for my siblings and I will do the good works. 

Once I retire, hopefully in the next couple of years, I plan on doing volunteer work. I could start doing it even now. As you so nicely put it, it's rewarding to give a little and get a lot. Thank you again for this piece, especially during the holidays. It gives me some hope about going forward.

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