Open your heart through civic engagement
by Amanda Guay View Bio
It happens to me each time I take a yoga class. Once I am stretched into a pose and feel like I can’t possibly go any deeper, my instructor tells the class to open their heart to the wall or ceiling. I am always satisfied afterwards when I attempt to open my heart further.
Just like you, my life forces me to juggle many commitments but each time I engage in community I reap countless benefits. Community engagement to me is serving on the board of a community organization, donating time and resources to a non-profit in my area, contributing to an advisory board or taking a volunteer shift. Engaging in community is time challenging, costs time and money, and is overwhelmingly worthwhile. The rewards I have experienced from these efforts include meeting a cross section of people I would not otherwise interface with and learning local content and resources that are outside my typical scope. It is another way to stretch myself and, yes, open my heart more.
I recently attended a training in which philanthropy was defined as sharing of your time, talents or treasures. I liked the concept of not only supporting causes you believe in through financial giving, but also through leveraging your skillsets and the hours in your day to benefit a cause you consider worthwhile. It turns out that your decision to participate in civic engagement can be beneficial for your health, as well as building your community:
- Civic engagement leads to higher social cohesion (trusting neighbors, socializing with family and friends, talking to and helping one’s neighbors)
- Research has demonstrated that altruistic emotions and behaviors are associated with greater well-being, health and longevity
- It has been found that volunteering for the environment is associated with improved health outcomes (physical activity, decreased depression)
- Research has shown that people who spent time caring for others demonstrated a resilience to stress that may have had a protective role in preventing stress related deaths
Recently, an incredibly generous donation from a couple in the community for a program at my workplace had me thinking about how people choose to give of their time, talents and treasures. The couple stated that they had learned from another philanthropist the idea of contributing what they could to improve their corner of the world. This makes sense when you consider that building your community is a solid outcome of your efforts. However, only 23.3% of Arizonans volunteered in 2015 compared to 24.9% for the nation, according to the Center for the Future of Arizona. In fact, Arizona is behind the national average in working with neighbors to fix or improve the community, attending a public meeting, voting in elections, doing favors for neighbors and contacting a public official.
Other things to consider:
- Research shows evidence that volunteering can be a pathway to employment, with volunteers experiencing a 27 to 55% higher likelihood of finding employment over their non-volunteering counterparts
- Communities with higher social cohesion have lower (up to two percentage points) unemployment rates
- Education is the strongest predictor of civic participation, college graduates are up to five times as likely to engage as a high school graduate
- Veterans are more likely to engage in civic engagement (specifically hold leadership roles in community organizations and work to fix community problems)
I find the extraordinary benefits of civic engagement help me to feel like a vibrant community member. I feel energized, connected, and healthier. I experience all of this because I keep trying to open my heart a bit more.
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