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Learning Center Experience
By Yasmeen Aleem
involves a commitment of one’s time, energy, and/or resources to benefit
others, with no expectation of reward or compensation. Millions of Americans
volunteer in many different ways, dedicating anywhere from a few hours per
month to several hours per week to assisting others. There are a variety of
motives for volunteering, and plenty of rewards to be gained when helping
Personal Characteristics of Volunteers
the United States, approximately 26 percent of adults volunteer; most are
between the ages of 35 and 54. Women volunteer more frequently than men, and
those with higher educational attainment tend to be more likely to volunteer.
Specifically, a greater proportion of college graduates volunteer, as opposed
to those who have no or little college education.1
of personality have revealed that those who volunteer tend to share certain
personality traits. Specifically, volunteers tend to have an internal locus of
control—in other words, they believe that change happens as a result of their
efforts—and have a high achievement motivation.2160;Also, volunteers tend
to be friendly, enjoy interpersonal relationships, and have higher levels of
empathy and concern for the welfare of others.3
Motivations for Volunteering
are a number of factors, both altruistic and egoistic, that motivate
individuals to volunteer. Often people become familiar with an organization for
personal or professional reasons, and then become inspired to donate their time
and effort to that institution.4 Others choose to
volunteer because it is a way to express their ethical or moral values
regarding helping others or humanitarianism, or because they want to learn more
about the world or a specific population.5
people volunteer for non-altruistic reasons as well, such as career
exploration, enhancing one’s resume, or gaining transferable skills to use in
the future.6 Some research
indicates that individuals who volunteer for non-altruistic reasons report
higher levels of satisfaction with their volunteer work and a greater
likelihood that they will continue to volunteer, perhaps because the benefits
of volunteering are easily recognized and tangible.7
Benefits of Volunteering
is well documented that there are numerous emotional, physical, and social
benefits associated with volunteering. Studies have demonstrated that
volunteers experience a “helper’s high”—a prolonged feeling of calm, reduced
stress, and greater self-worth after helping others8 —and overall life
satisfaction is higher among those who volunteer.9 Studies
of senior citizens have found that volunteering “reduces the pace of functional
decline” and is related to lower rates of depression.10 In addition, volunteering has been shown to enhance self-esteem
and self-confidence, perhaps because of the increased sense of purpose and
identity that results from serving others.11
health is also enhanced among volunteers, particularly among older individuals.
Older volunteers tend to report better health and a lesser decline in health
than non-volunteers. While one might assume that better health is a
prerequisite for volunteering, there are studies that suggest that volunteering
itself has a positive impact on health. For example, individuals who suffer
from chronic pain tend to report lower levels of pain after beginning to
volunteer with other pain patients.12 Research also indicates that giving social support to
others is directly correlated with longevity.13The effects of the “helper’s high” and increased sense of
well-being that result from volunteering may be factors that contribute to
enhanced physical health and longevity. Also, volunteering allows individuals
to engage in social interactions and thereby receive social support—a factor
known to promote health.14
addition to the emotional and physical benefits, there are many social benefits
enjoyed by volunteers. By becoming a contributing member of an organization,
volunteers have the opportunity to hone their social and interpersonal skills
and develop valuable friendships with others who share their values and
interests.15 Also, many organizations provide extensive and
thorough training for volunteers, offering individuals an opportunity to
acquire transferable skills that will be useful in other personal and
professional situations. Among youth, volunteerism has been correlated with
enhanced decision-making skills, social responsibility,16 and better social
outcomes, particularly for those who are at risk. For example, several studies
suggest that serving others reduces antisocial behavior and school dropout
rates, while increasing prosocial values among at-risk youth.17
Volunteer Opportunities for Psychology Majors
who study or have studied psychology can find numerous opportunities to use
their knowledge and skills in a volunteer capacity. Volunteers can work with
individuals of all ages, and in a variety of life situations. For example,
those who are interested in children might choose to work with impoverished
youth in foster care or group homes, or with children who have developmental
disabilities or chronic physical ailments. Individuals who are concerned with
women’s issues might choose to volunteer at a rape crisis hotline, women’s
shelter, or breast cancer awareness organization. Other settings for volunteer
work include hospitals, religious institutions, nonprofit organizations,
community agencies, fire stations, schools, youth programs, and mentoring
programs, among others. For those who prefer limited client contact, there are
many behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities, as well; creating marketing
materials, fundraising, or maintaining an organization’s website are just a few
ways that individuals can give back to their communities, while reaping the
many emotional, physical, and social rewards of volunteering.
Yasmeen Aleem is a full-time instructor in the
Department of Psychology, in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Kaplan University. She holds a master's degree in clinical
psychology,and is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Illinois.
She has practiced counseling in university counseling centers, residential and
outpatient addictions treatment agencies, and has long-term experience as a
volunteer at a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Ms. Aleem teaches psychology courses at Kaplan University, and has previously taught sociology and first-term courses. She has also mentored new faculty, and
facilitated orientations for new students. Ms. Aleem has a special interest and specific
experience in working with first-generation college students (students whose parents do not
have bachelor's degrees) and students with disabilities.
Aleem lives outside of Chicago, Illinois with her husband and three children.
In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and volunteering at her children's school.
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