Do good to get better


Dr James Beckerman (center back) and his colleagues on a Providence mission in Guatemala before the pandemic


In this article:

  • Dr. James Beckerman and Brittn Gray discussed the many health benefits of volunteering on a recent episode of the Heart to Start podcast.

  • Research shows that volunteering has the ability to profoundly improve physical and mental health.

  • Volunteering offers connection, purpose, and stress reduction for those who serve.

Heal it forward

To Providence Heart to Start Programcurrency is heal him forward. This striking and compelling vision inspires programming led by Providence Health Institute cardiologist Dr. James Beckerman, who uses the power of community and movement to help people become their best and healthiest, together. As part of Beckerman’s focus on holistic wellness, he recently hosted a Heart to Start podcast on service and volunteerism.

“One of the most effective ways to help yourself is to help someone else.”

-Dr. James Beckerman, Cardiologist, Providence Health Institute

“Caring can sometimes be a lonely journey. Helping others can make you healthier along the way,” says Beckerman. It’s true – volunteering doesn’t just create thriving communities – it’s also been shown to it has many health benefits

Doing good makes you feel better

In a recent podcast episode, Dr. Beckerman and Brittn Gray had a conversation about the health benefits of volunteering. Beckerman and Gray first met on a service immersion trip to Guatemala, forging a friendship with service as a cornerstone. Gray is the Executive Director of Global and National Immersion Programs at Providence. She leads Providence’s global partnerships and system-level volunteer efforts.

The takeaways from their conversation were many. Keep reading to find out how volunteering can be part of heal before as well as improve your own well-being.

Volunteer for Impact

Since the founding of our nation, volunteerism has played a major role in American civic life and culture. Volunteering connects people to each other and to issues facing their communities. By serving a common cause, volunteering can help “unite people of different races, ages, religions and genders.”

In the most recent Current population survey (CPS), they found that 30% of Americans, or 77.9 million people, volunteered their time for an organization or association in 2019. These volunteers reported serving approximately 5.8 billion hours, with an estimated economic value of $147 billion.

This volunteerism has a significant impact on our communities. Having an active volunteer base in an area can contribute to its resilience in times of need or crisis. In low-income and resource-poor areas, volunteerism can strengthen communities by creating stronger social networks. Overall, volunteering is thought to play a role in promoting a sense of identity for a community as well as a stronger sense of connection.

Volunteering improves physical health

Studies show that people who give back to their communities experience better overall health, greater life satisfaction, fewer hospitalizations, higher self-esteem, and a greater ability to manage their own chronic conditions. Volunteering can even reduce your risk of high blood pressure, depression, and chronic pain.

The best part? This research shows that volunteering is particularly beneficial for older people.

Volunteering strengthens one’s sense of purpose

Physical health and mental health go hand in hand. And mental health is tied to a sense of purpose.

For many, serving others provides purpose.

“Volunteering gives us meaning because it shows us our place in the world and our interconnectedness with others. We are not separate communities; we are a web of a human family. Gray said.

We accept that here in Providence. Since 2012, the Providence Global and Domestic Engagement (GDE) department has partnered to impact health through programs and services that honor the leadership, expertise and purpose of communities around the world. We live our health vision for a better world by addressing the root causes of disparities and working through local partnerships to correct the health inequities created by colonialism. Caregivers engage in volunteering in our home communities as well as with partners in countries such as Guatemala, Malawi and Nigeria. Learn more about this work here.

Volunteering strengthens organizations

Other organizations have also seen the benefits of encouraging employee volunteerism.

Ninety-six percent of employee volunteers report having greater meaning in their lives after volunteering. They feel like they have an impact on their communities. They gain a sense of control over their own lives and begin to think differently about stewardship and job responsibilities. Plus, they feel more connected to team members.

Brittn Gray (left) with colleague Gladis Juc of Medical Teams International on a service trip she shared with Dr Beckerman

Volunteering strengthens bonds

Volunteering at its best is based on solidarity. It is not a question of helping others, but of serving them. Service, says Gray, is about members of the same human family coming together in partnership to work toward common goals. This makes it mutually meaningful.

Gray had a powerful personal experience volunteering for Providence Hospice Care. His job was to call people whose loved ones had died in hospice. She asked them how they were doing and put them in touch with Providence Bereavement Counseling Services. Many foreigners have opened their hearts to him.

“I would leave the facility where I did this volunteering feeling so alive,” Gray says. Opportunities for service and connection set a “fire within us [of] compassion, gratitude and a desire to walk with each other,” she noted.

Volunteering encourages presence

Volunteering takes us out of our daily lives, helps us live in the present. This effect rings true whether you’re talking to someone mourning a tragic loss or filling boxes at a food bank.

“You find yourself so part of these moments and so in tune with them. People sometimes talk about being distracted by their work, but people aren’t distracted when they volunteer. There’s something bigger than they resonate,” Beckerman says.

Volunteering reduces stress

It is well known that chronic stress can cause a range of health problems. Volunteering can help reduce stress.

“There’s a lot of data to show that volunteering and service is good for your mind and good for your body,” says Gray. People she talks to after their volunteer experiences also report these benefits.

Gray herself agrees. Many, including Grey, feel inspired and encouraged by how others are overcoming their obstacles.

“I’m energized by opportunities for presence and connection that aren’t part of my daily life,” says Gray. “It helps me realize that my problems are small or that I have the strength to overcome them. It all works to decrease my stress, improve my sleep and [helps me] start making a difference again.

How to get involved

Volunteer opportunities are all around us.

“You can find these opportunities wherever you are. Maybe in your workplace, but elsewhere as well,” says Beckerman.

Why not find an opportunity to serve today? There’s a volunteer opportunity for every skill set, from tutoring students to rebuilding homes. Start with a quick Google search: “Volunteer opportunities near me”. VolunteerMatch and the United Way are also great sources to connect to your next service activity.

This will boost the health of the community and your health as well.

Visit our Annual Report to Our Communities page

To learn more about what we do to help our caregivers and other community partners, check out our annual report to our communities.

Related Resources

The Power of Partnership: Strengthening Global Health, Together

SeaView Recovery Housing provides individuals with a safe place to heal

How Providence Supported Thriving Global Partnerships During a Pandemic

This information is not intended to replace professional medical care. Always follow the instructions of your healthcare professional.


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