Volunteering is like church sans frontieres

Volunteering boosts happiness

Driving along recently, the radio on but my thoughts elsewhere, my ears pricked up. Recent studies have discovered that serotonin, the human happy hormone, can be released by volunteering, writes Alice Priest.

- The Good Oil

Volunteering – being neighbourly – leads to measurable rises of serotonin and feelings of happiness in those who undertake such activities as well as in those who receive these acts of kindness. It made me think about my own recent experiences of volunteering.

I wasn’t aware of this when I called the contact person on my parish bulletin about becoming a volunteer at a local psychiatric hospital chapel service. I was much more aware of having recently spent a week with senior students on a Good Sam Community Outreach program, volunteering in a range of aged care and crisis accommodation centres. The week-long program was in my home town and opened my eyes a little wider to my neighbours.

My regular work and values mean that I’m doing my best day-by-day to go about the business of being neighbourly. However, I find that volunteering quietly opens the door to another house, both in my neighbourhood and in my heart, that I might otherwise pass by.

So, once every few weeks I turn up with a plate of bun or a pile of sandwiches at the chapel of a hospital for people who see things differently all of the time. With the chaplain and the volunteers, I welcome the congregants – and they welcome me, remembering my name, and directing me to 'Sit here,' next to them. We share the chapel service and then we serve morning tea outside in the morning sun.

Sometimes I get the question, 'Are you a nurse?', and I reply, 'Just a volunteer.'

It’s funny, because the volunteers are often also trying to work out who’s who – who’s a patient, who’s a nurse, who’s a carer, who’s the bus driver? The mystery of who we are and how we are is broken open in this mix, and I realise that any one of ‘us’ could be any one of ‘them’ – and any one of ‘them’ could be any one of ‘us’.

FULL STORY It's like church sans frontier

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