New year, new community: 5 ways to help

OCCU volunteer at Greenhill Humane Society
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Did you know that volunteering makes you happier and healthier? It also gives you a sense of purpose while connecting you to new people. It even makes you feel like you have more free time.

It’s hard to think of any activities that add more value to your life—not to mention your community—than volunteering. One in four Americans volunteered in their communities last year, spending nearly 7.8 billion hours cooking, serving food, tutoring, coaching, fundraising and performing a broad range of other tasks. That’s an estimated $184 billion worth of helping hands reaching out to each other.

“Volunteers enrich our communities and keep our nation strong,” says Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Service also connects us with our neighbors and provides a chance to use our skills for the common good.”

The best thing about volunteering is opportunities are widely available, so it’s easy to find something to do that fits your interests. Community service is a great way to pursue your passions, develop new skills and explore new interests, all while helping to fill a need.

“There are so many ways we can make a difference for those in need, during the holiday season and throughout the entire year,” Spencer says. For example, you can:

1. Connect with a nonprofit through United Way.

What’s your favorite hobby? Gardening? Bingo? Driving a bus? United Way of Lane County connects volunteers with all sorts of opportunities to serve other nonprofits throughout the area.

The organization’s main focus is improving education, income and access to health care as well as meeting basic needs in the community. Worldwide, the organization has helped 2.8 million volunteers impact 50 million lives around the globe. Locally, the organization helped more than 2,000 volunteers get involved this year—a 16 percent increase over last year.

2. Alleviate hunger.

More than 13 percent of Oregon families don’t have enough to eat. Our state has the highest child hunger rate in the nation, with nearly one in three children lacking access to nutritious food. In Lane County alone, 55 percent of the population is eligible for food assistance.

Food for Lane County helps families get the food they need through a variety of programs. Teach cooking classes. Make dinner for the Family Dinner Program. Deliver meals to homebound seniors. Work in one of the nonprofit’s three gardens. There’s plenty to do.

3. Join your credit union’s board of directors.

Credit unions help local economies thrive and communities grow stronger. Because we’re owned and governed by the people who use our services, we’re able to extend credit  and financial services to people in our community.

There are plenty of ways to get involved at OCCU. Elected by members, our board of directors is focused on strategic planning for our credit union’s future. The board also selects people from our membership to serve on our supervisory committee, monitoring our operations and ensuring we’re soundly managed. Exciting things happen at our annual meeting in March—we invite you to be a part of them.

4. Find your volunteer match.

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? VolunteerMatch connects willing hands with the people who need them in cities throughout the United States.

The organization has connected 7 million active volunteers with more than 100,000 nonprofits seeking help. Its mission: Help every willing volunteer find causes they’re passionate about.

5. Help a neighbor.

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a big commitment. You’re serving the community every time you give a neighbor a hand. Last year more than 138 million Americans helped their neighbors out by house sitting, providing child care or helping with the shopping.
There’s work to be done in every neighborhood. Serving others while doing something you’re passionate about can make you and your community healthier and stronger in the coming year.