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Fact or fiction: Volunteer Edition

Busting the top 5 myths about giving back

Think you can’t benefit people in your community (and beyond) as a volunteer? Think again. You might be holding yourself back for no good reason.

It certainly shouldn’t be age, because service has no age limit. In fact, one in three volunteers in America is age 55 or older. According to data from the Corporation for National and Community Service, seniors made up more than 31 percent of the volunteer force in 2011, up from 25 percent a decade ago. That’s right: Some 20 million older Americans contributed nearly 3 billion hours of service that year, with an economic value upwards of $67 billion.

Better still, the individual value—payable in increased self-confidence, stronger connection to the community, and improved health and well-being—may be even more significant. According to “The Health Benefits of Volunteering,” those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and reduced risk of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.

Across age groups, older volunteers are the most likely to realize physical and mental health benefits from their volunteer activities.

What else might be keeping you on the sidelines? If it’s one or more of the more common myths below, bust free and start enjoying the wonderful benefits that come with making a difference.

Myth 1: You don’t have enough time. 
Many people say they simply don’t have time to volunteer. Most of us may feel busier than ever before, but doing good doesn’t have to take a ton of time: Whether you have five minutes or five hours, you can find an opportunity that fits your interests and your schedule.

And it might even help you become more efficient in all aspects of your life: Volunteers often report feeling more productive—not more stressed—when they make the time to give back.

Myth 2: You don’t have the right skills. 
You don’t have to be a master carpenter, Photoshop whiz or well-connected fundraiser to make a meaningful contribution to a worthy cause. No matter who you are, you have experience and skills that can do good for a variety of volunteer programs—from hunger and disaster relief to education and animal welfare. Even basics like reading and math can go a long way. You may even discover a hidden talent you never knew you had.

Myth 3: You’ll always be too anxious. 
Putting yourself out there can be scary. Whether it’s fear about taking public transportation, going to a stranger’s house or dealing with an unfamiliar population, volunteering can seem like risky business. So don’t go it alone. Getting involved with a friend or family member can settle your nerves—and double your impact. Or register with Create The Good to join a trusted network of volunteer opportunities, including many within AARP.

Myth 4: You can’t afford to volunteer. 
Some would-be volunteers hesitate over financial concerns. They worry about hidden costs to volunteering that will put a strain on their budget. Others fear they will feel pressure to donate money in addition to their time. Create The Good connects you to a network of more than 7,000 volunteer programs—with no financial strings attached.

Myth 5: You have to commit to an organization. 
You can make a big difference without joining any organization at all. In fact, nearly three-quarters of Americans age 55 and older find informal ways to volunteer their time on behalf of friendsneighborsseniorspatients, pets and more.

Fact: You’re Ready to Make a Difference 
Now that you know the whole truth about volunteering, get started with some of these popular ideas, or even one of these not-so-common ones.

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Bonus Myth: You’re not mobile enough.

Don’t let physical limitations or the lack of a car prevent you from volunteering. Instead, consider virtual volunteering, where you can help others by using the Internet or just a phone. You could write for a community newsletter, schedule in-kind donation pickups or send email alerts for your local animal shelter. Search Create The Good’s “at-home volunteering” category for more inspiration.