The key to a healthier, happier life
Evanston RoundTable, April 7, 2023
One of the most thorough studies of human development ever conducted, based on an 85-year multi-generational study of thousands of Americans of all ages and races around the country, bolstered by multiple studies in other countries, points emphatically to one overriding factor that determines happiness.
In their new book The Good Life, co-directors of the Harvard Study of Adult Development report that, “Through all the years of studying these lives, one crucial factor stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health and longevity … It’s not career achievement, or exercise, or a healthy diet. These things matter (a lot), but one thing continuously demonstrates its broad and enduring importance: Good relationships.”
If starting, maintaining and strengthening personal relationships is demonstrably the key to happiness and healthy longevity, how can we ensure that happens? The book offers numerous tips, including urging experienced employees to take a mentorship role in their workplace.
But here’s a tip that incorporates The Good Life’s recommendations with one of my own: serve yourself and your community by volunteering. This is a good time to start: April is Volunteer Month.According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering benefits people in many ways: it improves physical and mental health, provides a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills, and most pertinent to living a good life, nurtures existing and new relationships.
Happiness.com lists other benefits as well, such as building self-confidence and self-esteem and establishing a sense of purpose in one’s life, which is especially important for young people and retirees.
There’s also the upside of doing something useful to combat the onslaught of bad news we seem to receive every day, and “the very human desire to lend a hand,” said a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal article highlighted volunteer opportunities around the world. But you don’t have to travel overseas to do good works. Evanston has many volunteer opportunities for people of every age and skill level. Here are just a few.
Meals on Wheels: “We use more than 50 volunteers every day,” said longtime Executive Director Deborah Morganfield. Volunteer opportunities include meal preparation and delivery as well as clerical activities such as answering the phone at the agency’s office at 1723 Simpson St. Meals on Wheels Northeastern Illinois serves more than 450 people a month with catered meals in Evanston and suburbs north and west. “Anyone struggling to prepare meals for themselves is eligible,” Morganfield said.
The best way to explore and sign up for volunteer activities is through the organization’s website.
Connections for the Homeless: Started in 1984, Connections has many opportunities to work in-person or remotely, said Elle Ullum, director of community engagement. Some 1,200 volunteers a year currently serve the organization’s 4,000 clients. At Lake Street Church and the organization’s main office at 2121 Dewey Ave., people can help sort donations and assist clients in selecting needed food and/or clothing.
Faith-based partners, Girl Scout groups and high school volunteers help make and bag more than 700 lunches a week. And corporate partners wanting to give back to the community can contribute to “Sorting Saturdays” on the second Saturday of every month.
Volunteers are even needed for the annual block party, which is scheduled for July 29 at Twiggs Park.
For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit the Connections website.
Evanston Medical Reserve Corps: The City of Evanston encourages interested parties to volunteer for the Evanston Medical Reserve Corps to aid first responders. According to the city’s website, MRC “is a volunteer group of both medical and non-medical professionals who have an interest in serving in public health emergencies and in health-related events year-round. All volunteers are trained in public health preparedness, but we also train on other important topics, such as health education initiatives, communicable disease investigations, and violence in the community.”
More information is available here and by emailing EvanstonMRC@cityofevanston.org or calling 847-448-4311. Those interested can submit an application to join the MRC.
ESCCA: Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association was founded in 1931 and has been active in the city going on 92 years. “There’s been a need since the Depression,” explained Elaine Darer, co-president.
The agency is staffed entirely by volunteers, currently more than 100, she said, including people who sort, help fit and deliver clothes. There are also opportunities to provide clerical and marketing assistance, even from home. More than 500 Evanston children a year benefit from the agency’s services, Darer said.
The best way to learn more about volunteer opportunities and to sign up is through ESCCA’s website.
McGaw YMCA: Volunteerism “is a vital part of how we operate,” said Michelle Brumfield, director of Memberships and Partnerships. She said the McGaw Y utilizes the skills and dedication of dozens of volunteers, including those who help kids with the “sports and courts” program, the Camp Echo program or work with residents in the Men’s Residence. “It’s really the volunteers who help the McGaw Y stay responsive to the community’s needs,” she added.
More information is available on McGaw’s website.
YWCA Evanston/North Shore: There are several ways YWCA volunteers help out, including working on flower beds, managing storage and assisting with Pantry Day. Check the YWCA’s website for more information and to apply for a volunteer position.
Evanston Hospital: There are some volunteer opportunities at the hospital, said Maureen Rizzi, volunteer manager. They may include wayfinding, helping at the front desk and assisting in the ambulatory surgery unit and the patient floors.
More information is available at the hospital’s website, including this encouraging note: “A variety of unique volunteer opportunities await you at each [North Shore] hospital. Most likely, there is a volunteer position that is just right for you.”
Ascension of St. Francis: Some 70 active volunteers, including many Northwestern and Loyola University pre-med and nursing students, help out at the hospital, located at 355 Ridge Ave., said Rosa Trejo, volunteer supervisor. They include greeters at the front desk and others who provide transit assistance and work with in-patient nursing units on the floors. There’s even a 100-year-old volunteer at the front desk, Trejo said.
More information is available at the hospital’s website.
Rebuilding Exchange of Evanston: The Evanston facility at 1245 Hartrey Ave. can use help with clean-up, organizing tools, woodworking skills and more, said Nancy Bennett, education director. Check out the website, call 773-252-3017 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Curt’s Café: The restaurant at 2922 Central St. hires and trains at-risk youth in the food-service business. “Having qualified volunteers whose intentions align with our goals is extremely important when fulfilling our mission,” according to Curt’s website. Check here for more information on volunteering at Curt’s.
The above list is by no means comprehensive. If you have a particular interest in any Evanston not-for-profit, check their website. They probably have volunteer opportunities for you. The city’s local schools, for example, have varying needs and policies. Check on their individual websites.
Wherever you choose to donate your time and services, you will be helping yourself as well as your community.
As ESCCA’s Darer said, “Hopefully, people remember, this helps fill their souls.”
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