Why Volunteering is Good for Your Health

by DavalosMcCormack on February 28, 2008

Who would ever think that spending a day helping people who are homeless could be good for you? Well, we just did it. And it’s an amazing feeling. Is it good for your health? Well, it’s certainly good for your heart and that’s enough for us.
We spent the day at Project Homeless Connect. It’s a program that is held every two months in San Francisco to provide a wide range of services for people who are homeless, everything from shelter and medical care to eye glasses or even getting their pet dog a health check-up. The program depends on volunteers to make it work. And while the homeless people the program is aimed at get a lot out of Project Homeless Connect, the volunteers get even more.

“I call it the post-Homeless Connect goofy grin” says Kendra Stewardson. Kendra is a volunteer at PHC. “People wake up the day after volunteering and they just have this big smile on their face, knowing they have made a difference in people’s lives”.

Kendra knows what she is talking about. Three years ago she was a client. She was living on the streets, barely surviving, sometimes going days without talking to anyone. “One day I was sitting on the sidewalk. It had been raining heavily that night and I was soaked, and pretty miserable. Then four people came up to me, wearing Project Homeless Connect t-shirts and asked me if I wanted to come with them. I wasn’t sure what Project Homeless Connect was but I went with them. That night I was sitting in a hotel room, warm and dry,”

Ever since then Kendra has been volunteering at PHC, helping others to get off the streets. She is right about the goofy grin syndrome. You do leave the event feeling as if you have made a difference in someone’s life.

While we were taking a break for lunch we sat with volunteers, some of whom were there for the first time. The one topic that kept coming up around the table was the amazing change of attitude volunteers felt about the homeless. Rose, a first timer, said, “I used to think that most people on the streets chose to be there, but now I see that most people want housing and a safe place to live.” Others realized that they were only 2 or 3 paychecks away from being homeless themselves. We met volunteers who came because they wanted to be part of a community solution. There were teens, elders, folks who came because their company asked them to and others who continued to come because they saw the importance of this collective gathering.

The volunteers came from a wide range of backgrounds and had an amazing array of skills: there were doctors, lawyers, barbers, podiatrists and all kinds of health care folks. One of the most important group of volunteers were the managers of Bill Graham’s Civic Center. They have donated the building 21 times in the last 3 years. That means they provide set up for free, clean up for free, support services for free, lunches for the volunteers and this is a union facility! Talk about reaching out to the community! The management said that they want the center to be a part of the community solution. They succeeded.
The homeless are people who have hit hard times. Some have drug or mental health issues, some are in dire need of the services offered, or just a warm lunch and a kind word. But all of them were appreciative of the kindness, respect and generosity shown them at the event. They left with a re-found sense of dignity, something that is not often found on the streets.

We witnessed something wonderful today, a coming together of people willing to reach out to those less fortunate. We all left with goofy grins, and a sense that the homeless are people…just like you and me.  And we left with a sense of how fortunate we are to live in a City that offers people a chance to change and a chance to make a difference.

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