Volunteering Together to Build Friendships and Strengthen Bonds


(Family Features) Volunteering has always been a big part of Shelley Brosnan’s life, whether she was serving in her children’s school or in their Fairfax, Va., community. When Brosnan retired, increasing her volunteer efforts was a natural next step. Serving with Volunteer Fairfax, an AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP program, she spends about 10 hours a week teaching new volunteers about helping older adults age in place, providing food for those in need and extending the capacity of local nonprofits.

“There’s so much to love about volunteering,” Brosnan said. “Providing purpose and serving the community are obvious reasons, but the connections I make with others are one of the greatest benefits. I just really love helping people and I’ve made friends through volunteering.”

Brosnan’s experience with volunteering is backed by science. According to the Mayo Clinic, having a solid social network improves both physical and mental health as it can boost happiness, increase your sense of belonging and improve self-confidence. As people age, many social avenues from earlier phases of life, such as school and work, no longer exist and making friends can be difficult. The Mayo Clinic suggests volunteering as a beneficial way to make friends and improve social well-being.

“Volunteering fosters more connected and less isolated older adults,” said Atalaya Sergi, director at AmeriCorps Seniors. “Our research, focused on the impact of our programs, finds volunteering can provide positive health and well-being outcomes. In our study, 84% of participants reported stable or improving health and 88% had lower feelings of isolation within one year of volunteering. Each year, we match more than 143,000 Americans with volunteer opportunities, helping build connections and address societal issues, nurturing real relationships that help people become both happier and more fulfilled.”

Adults ages 55 and up, like Brosnan, can be matched with local volunteer organizations fitting their interests, skills and availability through AmeriCorps Seniors, the nation’s largest national service program for older adults, which offers three signature programs, RSVP, the Foster Grandparent Program and the Senior Companion Program. Brosnan, an RSVP volunteer, and others nationwide play crucial roles in community resilience and connectedness.

The time commitment for all programs is flexible, ranging from a few hours to 40 hours per week.

Research studies like the Harvard University Study of Adult Development, found that older adults who invest in, care for and develop the next generation are three times as likely to be happy as those who did not. Foster Grandparent volunteers Francois Mwabi and Jerome Menyo, based in Kentwood, Mich., are two more examples of the difference it can make to serve.

Mwabi and Menyo attest to the joy of impacting youth by passing on their wisdom and sharing their culture and language with students, many of whom are refugees from different parts of Africa just as Mwabi and Menyo themselves were several years ago. The two volunteers are so popular among the students and staff that teachers had to work out a schedule for all their students to be able to spend time with them.

One of the reasons the program has such a positive impact is the intergenerational connections it helps establish. Benefits abound not only for the young, but particularly for the volunteers.

“We love being here because of the environment and the students who study here,” Menyo said. “The teachers like us. I help students who speak my language. I enjoy it and they enjoy it, too.”

To be matched to rewarding volunteer opportunities near you, visit AmeriCorps.gov/YourMoment.