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Holiday Volunteerism Can Become Positive Addiction

December 22, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Dec. 15, 2006 – Holiday volunteering can be the start of an ongoing positive addiction, says Miguel L. Arce, Springfield College assistant professor of social work. “This season brings out our inner altruist. The holiday volunteer often receives tangible benefits—more than just a good feeling—and that can stimulate a lifetime passion for service.”

The need for volunteer help in human services is growing as governmental and private financial support shrinks, Arce notes. Fortunately, the fastest-growing population of volunteers is young people, from 18 to 23 years old, who are donating more time than their predecessors and making an impact in new ways.

Charlene Elvers directs volunteer programs at Springfield College (Mass.), where the vast majority of the 2,200 undergraduate students are involved in some form of volunteerism or community service, an activity that mirrors the College’s mission of leadership in service to humanity. She says today’s college-age students are “a new breed of activists who believe they can change the world, one deed at a time. They want to develop a personal relationship with a disadvantaged person or group, work with them over time, and see results. They value the human connection, and are willing to make a commitment. They also are products of the electronic age, multi-taskers, who want to take charge of problems and make a difference.” She notes that students who have good experiences while volunteering often want to do more.

Arce agrees with this self-perpetuating aspect of volunteerism. “When we see a situation that we’ve fixed previously, we are enticed.” A lifelong volunteer for charitable organizations and former executive director of two, Arce has observed patterns in volunteers, which include such motivators as taking control of a social ill, atoning for past mistakes, advancing a social or religious value, combining good work with advancing a professional reputation, or preserving a valued resource.

But no matter what motivates someone to volunteer, the personal rewards often go beyond the feeling of having helped another person. “Young adults build experience and maturity vital to life success,” says Elvers. “They get to assume leadership roles not usually available to people their age. They experience people from various ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. And they acquire a sense of accomplishment and feel needed.”

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