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Volunteering good for mental, physical health

Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune Ed Reed, left, Nan Gunderson and Stewart McCollom are peer counselors who serve senior citizen clients in Jackson County for the Age Wise Age Well program.
Volunteer opportunities abound in Rogue Valley

Volunteering not only helps the community, research shows lending a hand can improve your physical and mental health.

April marks National Volunteer Month, a time to recognize the contributions of volunteers in communities and encourage more people to step forward.

Research shows volunteering provides physical and mental health benefits, and volunteers report better physical health than those who don’t volunteer, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Volunteering leads to lower rates of depression and anxiety, especially for people 65 and older. Volunteering releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter important for learning, motivation, mood and moving your body physically, the Mayo Clinic said.

Volunteering provides a sense of purpose, teaches valuable skills and increases social interactions. The sense of appreciation volunteers get can lower stress, which can in turn reduce the risk of many physical and mental health problems, such has heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and general illness, the Mayo Clinic said.

For businesses, a robust volunteer program can increase productivity, engagement and retention, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Volunteering is a great way to reconnect with the community as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.

The past few years have taken a toll on everyone, leaving some with a feeling of isolation and a sense of cabin fever. Volunteering can help break the spell, said Caitlin Back, director of corporate responsibility at Umpqua Bank, which encourages employee volunteerism.

“With so much going on in the world that seems out of our control, giving back to our local communities even in the smallest of ways can be tremendously empowering and make a real difference,” Back said.

Volunteering through a local organization is a way to meet other people while helping the community.

Organizations that use volunteers to help people in need include St. Vincent de Paul, ACCESS, the Ashland Food Project and the Medford Food Project, Food & Friends, Hearts with a Mission, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County for children, National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon, Rogue Retreat and United Way of Jackson County.

Many schools, churches and arts organizations also have volunteer opportunities.

Jackson County is home to some unusual volunteer-run organizations, such as the Circus of Screams haunted house that raises money during Halloween season for nonprofit groups. Volunteers work nearly year-round to prepare the haunted house in Eagle Point.

Library lovers can volunteer through Jackson County Library Services.

To help animals, consider volunteering at the Jackson County Animal Shelter, the Southern Oregon Humane Society or sanctuaries such as Equamore for horses or Sanctuary One for farm animals.

People who want to get outside while volunteering might make a good fit for organizations such as Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity and Jackson County Search and Rescue.

The Community Volunteer Network matches volunteers 55 and older with community organizations that need helpers.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.