Research Shows It’s Truly Better to Give Than Receive
by Cecilia Clark
When Brandon Rodriguez thought about where to earn his community service hours for school, he knew immediately where he wanted to volunteer. Brandon chose to make a difference at the place where he spent many, many joyful hours as a youngster — Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.
“When I was little, my mom used to bring me here every week. I love this place,” said Brandon. “Now my mom and I are volunteering together and it brings back good memories.”
Alicia and Brandon Rodriguez volunteering in the Art Loft
Summer offers many opportunities for family time. Volunteering together is one that pays huge dividends for everyone — the community, children, parents and caregivers, and the family as a whole.
There are oodles of ways to volunteer. It’s important to find enriching experiences that are also age appropriate. You could do what Brandon’s family did and seek out opportunities to stoke your child’s passion. You can also look for activities that are completely new to everyone — so the entire family is learning together. Or you can choose a nonprofit whose mission conveys an important value you want to instill — such as volunteering for an environmental organization that supports climate change.
Benefits of Family Volunteerism
Families with young children are busier than ever. Here are some reasons why carving out community service time together is worth it.
Parents and kids see each other from new perspectives. Parents and children have the opportunity to witness and appreciate each other’s strengths in new ways. Breaking out of the home routine allows people to express themselves beyond their family role in ways that may be surprising and positive to each other.
“I feel really proud of Brandon. He’s always said that he wanted to be a teacher and I can see why. He relates so well to the children,” said Alicia Rodriguez, Brandon’s mom and volunteer partner.
Volunteering requires problem-solving. Figuring things out together is satisfying for everyone and creates a sense of teamwork. It’s a real confidence-builder to work through a problem together, especially when it’s for the benefit of someone else.
Museum visitor helping load food packets for the hungry at Kids Food Festival.
Volunteering cultivates empathy. Reminding your children how fortunate they are to have a warm and safe place to sleep each night has greater meaning when you’re actually helping out at a homeless shelter. The direct exposure speaks volumes and gives the family a greater appreciation for what they have and for the needs of others.
Volunteering is a healthy salve for negativity. In a world of 24/7 news and social media filled with turmoil and tragedies, the world can seem like a hopelessly daunting place. Actively participating in making your community a better place can help families feel more optimistic.
“I feel happy when I see the children enjoying such a simple activity like working with playdough — they will play for hours. Volunteering with the children is a good experience for both of us,” says Alicia Rodriguez.
If those weren’t reasons enough, there’s more. Research shows that volunteering is good for your brain and your overall health.
Giving back has a positive effect on how you feel. Studies on the “Happiness Effect” of volunteering show that you become happier the more you volunteer. Your body releases dopamine in the brain, which has a positive effect on your well-being.
Volunteering can lower the risk of depression and anxiety. It can lead to what is called the “helper’s high,” which may occur because service to others releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin while lowering levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Youth volunteer helping out at the Question Quest program.
People who volunteer get sick less often and live longer.
Volunteering as a family provides an opportunity for spending meaningful time together while strengthening family ties and giving parents another avenue for teaching life lessons. By helping others, everyone feels better about themselves and their family.
“I hope that volunteers continue to inspire creativity, curiosity and life-long learning throughout their lives and feel fulfilled and rewarded after completing their service with us,” says Margarita Gracian, volunteer coordinator for Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.
“Come and try volunteering — it’s not that hard and it’s really rewarding,” says Brandon.