Live longer by lending a helping hand

Volunteer Corner

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April is National Volunteer Month! Americans across the country will be giving their time and putting energy into serving their communities. It won't be a paying job, but the benefits provided will pack a powerful boost into the overall health and well-being of the individuals putting in the hours.

In several studies over the past two decades, it has been determined that people who volunteer for selfless reasons, such as helping others, live longer than those who don't lend a helping hand.

Researchers have been aware of these benefits for some time, but acknowledge that the volunteer must truly "feel" he or she is doing something good and worthwhile, and "genuinely care" to receive this life-extending benefit, and not volunteering for selfish reasons.

"Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger," said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. "More than 61 million Americans volunteer to improve conditions for people in need and to unselfishly give of themselves. While the motivation is altruistic, it is gratifying to learn that their efforts are returning considerable health benefits."

Each time we help someone we don't know, we are reaching out a little, and that can make us feel vulnerable. In order to overcome those fears, our bodies release oxytocin, which helps to buffer stress while increasing social trust and tranquility. This "compassion hormone," which is related to cell repair, nutrient storage and cellular growth, helps limit exposure to stress hormones like cortisol, which is bad for the cardiovascular system, and can affect the brain long term in the form of dementia.

Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University in New York and author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping states, "When people just think about giving, the body doles out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, which has a soothing effect, and possibly serotonin, one of the brain chemicals we treat depression with. They feel joy and delight - helper's high."

According to researchers from the University of Michigan, volunteering seems to be a selfless act on the surface, but people volunteer for a wide range of reasons, from getting out of the house and meeting new people to doing something good for people who need help and groups they support.

According to national surveys, community members that spend two hours a week, about 100 hours a year volunteering, receive the highest benefit. "Civic Engagement and volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century that's free to join," adds Thomas H. Sander, executive director of the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University.

United Way of Kootenai County invites you to improve both your health AND the community's by building social ties and improving the lives of people in our community through volunteer work.

Volunteer Opportunities

Panhandle Health District Needs Volunteers to Act in a Simulation

The state of Idaho will conduct a mass vaccination exercise on May 1, 2013, at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. Panhandle Health District and other emergency responders will practice registering, triaging and medicating a high number of volunteer patients in a short time - two hours. Families, seniors, people with disabilities, students, veterans and others are encouraged to volunteer for this unique experience. They are currently seeking 300 volunteers to play mock patients from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. for this exercise. Volunteers may stand in line and then move through registration and distribution of M&M and Skittles that serve as medication. Lunch and parking will be provided.

Please contact Public Health Preparedness at (208) 415-5180,, with your name, email, phone number and the number attending.

Save the date!

Attend the 6th Annual Volunteer Fair, hosted by Kootenai County Young Professionals and sponsored by the United Way of Kootenai County Volunteer Center. On Wednesday, April 24, from 4-7 p.m. at the Best Western Cd'A Inn, connect with more than 50 area nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers. Learn about the service opportunities and volunteer needs of your community. Organizations will be onsite to discuss how you can get involved with volunteering, events, fundraising, and more.

Get Connected!

The United Way of Kootenai County Volunteer Center


* "One-Stop Volunteer Resource Center" for the whole community

* Ongoing and one-time volunteer opportunities



visit the

United Way's Volunteer Center website


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