The community-building benefits of volunteering

2Life staff and volunteers outside of Shillman House in Framingham, MA

Volunteering is an ideal way to build community and bring joy to yourself and to others. It can take many forms, such as serving meals, running errands for older adults, or cleaning up a local park. But each instance allows us to connect to our community and contribute to a better future.

Research shows that volunteering has far-reaching physical and mental health benefits. For the individual, volunteering provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Numerous studies have shown that getting involved boosts self-confidence and self-esteem. In addition, people who give back generally have stronger social connections and tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression. The act of volunteering also promotes a sense of empathy and understanding toward others, which leads to personal growth and development.

Giving time and resources to those in need bridges the gap between the individual and the community and provides services that support and enhance people’s lives. It also helps nonprofits do more with the resources they have. At 2Life, volunteering is built into almost every aspect of community life.

A culture of giving

Since its founding, 2Life’s mission to help older adults reach their full potential as they age has been grounded in a culture of giving for residents and staff alike, which informs our approach to volunteering. Generosity and kindness have the power to enrich communities in countless ways. When people prioritize giving, it creates a ripple effect that inspires others to participate and make a positive impact. Communities benefit from improved access to resources and services, increased social support, and a stronger sense of connection and empathy with other community members. By creating a culture of giving, we build stronger communities.

The culture of volunteering at 2Life includes volunteers from within the community. We see the true strength of our community when residents volunteer to help each other. Recently, in anticipation of opening an addition to the Golda Meir campus, a group of residents approached the executive director with a proposal to form a committee that would ensure new residents felt welcome and at home. Residents and staff also regularly donate their time to work at the front desk or help at an event.

Bringing outside people into the community — whether expert speakers or youth volunteers and mentees — further promotes social cohesion and enriches community life. At 2Life, the volunteer program helps break down generational barriers and debunk misconceptions about aging that are deeply entrenched in our society.

“Older adults have valuable experience, skills, and talents to share with the younger generation,” says Molly McKenna, Director of Program Development for 2Life. “Our programs create opportunities to connect and learn from one another. It’s a two-way street. We bring in talented, committed volunteers, but residents offer even more in return.”

Finding your why

During the past several years, 2Life has expanded its volunteer program to focus on opportunities that will have the most significant impact on its campuses and make it easy for people to get involved.

“We want people to join us in our mission,” says Natalie Thoresen, 2Life’s Volunteer Program Manager. “We welcome experienced volunteers and those just beginning their journey in volunteerism. Our team works with each volunteer to determine their why — whether it’s socializing, using their skills, building connections, or promoting intergenerational exchange.”

2Life’s volunteer program is designed to be flexible. People can volunteer in many ways, including short-term, long-term, formal, and informal opportunities. Volunteers can support residents by providing companionship and technology assistance, welcoming guests and visitors to campus, assisting with events and celebrations,
and leading social activities such as karaoke and game groups. Many residents also get in on the action, leading book clubs and tai chi classes, walking a neighbor’s dog, or helping someone get groceries — which, in turn, encourages others to contribute.

“Our program has a positive snowball effect for volunteers and residents,” says Natalie.

Meaningful returns

Although volunteering can take various forms, the common thread is mutual benefit for volunteers and residents. Many 2Life volunteers joined while a loved one lived in a 2Life community. The meaningful connection with the community motivates them to continue offering support.

Molly likes to share a story that highlights the power of giving and community. At the height of the pandemic, the extended 2Life community — staff residents, friends, neighbors, family, and even delivery drivers — banded together to ensure residents were safe and secure and had all their needs met.

“There was so much spirit and camaraderie during such a scary time. Being part of a community that cares deeply about one another gives me a profound sense of pride,” says Molly. “It’s a testament to the culture of giving at 2Life and within our extended community.

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