Community Engagement
The Many Benefits of Volunteerism
Shondra Jenkins
Shondra Jenkins

Executive Director,
Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a leadership education program with a group called Leadership Montgomery (LM). The group’s goal is to build bonds among leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sector to improve the local community.

LM has always been focused on the value of giving and giving back to the community. Recently, they even expanded to include the Corporate Volunteer Council of Montgomery County. The expansion will help them educate businesses on how to partner with and support non-profit organizations.

An increased focus on community service is a growing trend among leadership programs. What’s the connection? Community service can have huge benefits for leaders because it benefits individuals, companies and communities. It’s a win-win-win, and that’s what good leadership is all about.

For individuals

Participating in community service has been shown to have positive effects on individuals. Research shows that volunteering tends to make people feel a little happier. Many refer to it as a “helper’s high.” It’s a surge of endorphins you get from helping others, and scientists say it it can even have positive health benefits. Research has also shown that volunteering regularly has been associated with lower rates of long-term illnesses.

I recently helped organize a Leadership Montgomery event about building bridges among the private, public and nonprofit sectors. We intentionally included a service opportunity as part of the program. We were talking about the psychological benefits of volunteering, and we wanted to give those attendees the opportunity to feel it for themselves. Try it yourself—the helper’s high is real!

For communities

Volunteering also benefits communities in more ways than one. Obviously the very nature of community service means that is has a direct, positive impact on communities. Volunteers are ensuring that children have healthy food, the elderly are cared for, parks are clean and so much more.

But the benefits go beyond that, too. Helping others is “contagious,” meaning that those who have received help are much more likely to help others, according to an Oxford University study. So the benefits of service have an exponential effect throughout the community.

For businesses

Serving the community is a great way to build teams and boost employee engagement. Many companies incorporate community service into team building events—getting that “helper’s high” with your team can boost cohesion.

Building a company-wide community-service culture can attract new employees and increase employee retention. Many companies do this by offering paid time off for volunteering or otherwise supporting their efforts. For example, the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation gives grants to five Sodexo employees each year that have been nominated by coworkers for the outstanding volunteer work they have done in the fight to end hunger.

Have you or your company experienced any of these benefits? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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