Jun 27

Volunteering at Era Living retirement communities: Connection and Community

If you’ve ever volunteered at a food bank, clothing drive, or public park, you may have worked alongside others or in teams, chatting as you packed bags, folded shirts, or dug out weeds. Through these activities, you might have come to realize how easy the volunteer experience made it to connect with others.  The feelings that stem from shared satisfaction, and the hopefulness from seeing how your effort and care supports others, provide a meaningful framework for new friendships.

Studies have shown that people who volunteer their time for a cause they care about may feel more socially connected. Volunteers tend to be at lower risk for loneliness and depression. In a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, study results revealed that volunteers felt more effective, productive, and abundant in the time they had, even after volunteering to give it away.

And in a 2013 Harvard Women’s Health Watch article, evidence is cited suggesting that when volunteering with the public benefit in mind, the impact goes beyond mental health benefits to even positively affect and lower blood pressure. This may come from increased physical activity as a requirement of the volunteer work, or simply the reduced stress and relaxation that comes from social connection. In short, from the community to the volunteers, everyone wins.

And in a ripple effect, lower stress and a relaxed, positive attitude can make starting new friendships and conversations much smoother and easier. For many, starting friendships later in life feels harder, with those skills unpracticed and a resistance to the investment and emotional labor needed for new relationships. Plus, it can just be awkward, at almost any stage of life.

The good news is, volunteering can smooth out the bumps of those first steps toward a new friendship. Volunteering is centered around a common goal and values shared by those involved. It’s based in community support, and, depending on the activity, involves teamwork. Conversations start naturally and form around the mission at hand. And working together with a shared purpose and values, whether it’s for the safety of homeless animals or increasing awareness of an important issue, can build camaraderie and common ground.

In Era Living’s Thrive wellness program, residents live in an environment built for social support and physical activity, including volunteer work. Volunteering opportunities in Era Living communities run the gamut: it doesn’t have to be big or complicated, or even involve paperwork. It can be as simple as working with the Era Living volunteer coordinator, on staff, to identify which volunteer projects are best suited for you.  For residents who want to engage with neighbors but stay close to home, The Sunshine Club (at The Gardens at Town Square and The Lakeshore) offers volunteers the chance to visit and check in on neighboring residents who may be isolated due to physical and/or cognitive limitations. Other in-community opportunities include sitting and knitting blankets and clothing for the homeless, organized by the Knit Wits Club, also at The Gardens at Town Square.

Volunteering can look like donating school supplies to families who can’t afford them, organized by our residents at the Ida Culver House Broadview. It can also mean partnering to raise money for the local fire department, organized by residents and staff at the University House Issaquah. And outside in the fresh air, the residents at Aljoya Thornton Place garden in pea patches to grow fruits and vegetables for Lake City Food Bank, and also work as docents to collectively restore the ecosystem of Thornton Creek.

No matter the volunteer activity, the greater Seattle area benefits from the service, efforts, and donations of the residents. And as their new friendships grow through shared activities, residents can also strengthen their social support network.

Whether you’re a seasoned resident of an Era Living community or are just about to join us, the Thrive program is a great conduit through which to explore many kinds of volunteer work, meet others who share similar values, and discover new and lasting relationships while working together to help the community. Finding the right work for your interests, talents, and values can build confidence and purpose—and the ripple effects of friendships, social support, and health benefits can go much further than you think.

Have questions about our Thrive program? Era Living Community Relations staff are happy to talk with prospective residents during a tour, and current residents can get in touch with the Life Enrichment team in their Era Living community.