Sunday Column: ‘Get Connected’ to see the many benefits of volunteering

As originally published in The State Journal-Register.  Read original.

It’s known that volunteering has a positive impact on our community by helping programs and people in need. Our community succeeds because of the selfless efforts of our community’s volunteers who help our local programs keep their attention on the important services helping the needs of our community. But how does volunteering help you as a volunteer?

According to Dr. Jeanne Segal and Lawrence Robinson in their article “Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits,” there are at least three ways volunteering benefits the individual volunteer: social connections, fulfillment, and health.

Volunteering brings people with similar interests together, while strengthening current relationships by offering the opportunity to commit to a shared goal. Reaching these goals provides a sense of fulfillment from helping others, which benefits both your physical and mental health; volunteering gets your body moving, can lower stress and anxiety, and can even help with feelings of depression.

Now, getting set up with local volunteer opportunities is easier than ever. In 2013, United Way of Central Illinois introduced Get Connected, a volunteer website and management platform sponsored by Memorial Health System. The website is designed to connect members of our community with volunteer opportunities, nonprofit events, wish lists and job postings throughout our community.

Get Connected is a free, easy-to-use, desktop and smartphone-friendly website for any local agency to post volunteer opportunities and other needs, while providing individuals a place to view and answer those needs. Once signed up, a volunteer will be notified of their favorite places to volunteer and can then easily share those needs with their coworkers, friends and families.

Get Connected also allows volunteers, organizations, schools and companies to set up private volunteer groups, track hours, and receive reporting on group activities. The system works well for schools, single classrooms or service clubs seeking to organize, plan and keep track of volunteer service.

Since launching United Way’s Get Connected, more than 2,500 registered volunteers have answered more than 3,900 volunteer opportunities and agency needs. Today, more than 70 local nonprofits use the website to post volunteer opportunities.

There are currently ongoing needs for Catholic Charities’ food basket organizers, Boys and Girls Clubs’ Girls Who Code facilitators, as well as many Memorial Medical Center opportunities. A Girl Scouts of Central Illinois Cookie Rally event is posted for February 2, and the Youth Service Bureau has their Annual Trivia Night and Silent Auction posted for February 8. You can see all of these opportunities and more at Get Connected.

And speaking of volunteering and promoting volunteerism, United Way is very appreciative of the State Journal- Register for hosting a volunteer fair in their community room this past week, as well as the 31 organizations who participated. Anyone who attended the volunteer fair was welcomed by staff members and volunteers of organizations always looking for more volunteers.

We invite you to learn more about the many ways you can volunteer and give back to our community, and then take action. We guarantee you’ll find helping our community benefits you as well. You can access Get Connected by visiting volunteer.springfieldunitedway.org.