There’s a certain table in the cafeteria at Yavapai Regional Medical Center West in Prescott that’s occupied by the same group each Thursday afternoon. It’s not a standing medical consultation or physician’s power lunch. It’s a group of like-minded volunteers who look forward to their weekly time together. They share a meal, swap stories and laughter, then say goodbye for another week and head off to their various jobs throughout the hospital. Volunteering is well known for the friendships and camaraderie it fosters. Volunteers tend to feel more connected, helping to reduce the incidence of loneliness and depression. But did you know that volunteering is actually good for your health as well?

Recent studies indicate that volunteering can help lower stress levels and blood pressure, leading to increased resistance to heart disease, stroke and premature death.

Research by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that people who volunteer have lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression and fewer physical limitations than those who don’t volunteer.

Nancy Thomes, Director of Volunteer Services at Yavapai Regional Medical Center says that her goal is to find meaningful experiences for the volunteers so that they feel the rewards of sharing their strengths and talents with others.

“I feel a little like the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof,” Thomes says, “When I find just the right match and see the volunteer growing and enjoying their job, it’s such a joy. So often, I’ll see someone’s self esteem improve and their courage grows. There have been some volunteers who have overcome depression, and I’m sure that their experiences volunteering at YRMC had a hand in that.”

Regular volunteer work gives a person a sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging to something greater than themselves. According to recent studies, this may lead to increased longevity, greater functional ability later in life, and a strengthened resilience when dealing with health problems.

In addition to the more visible volunteer positions at YRMC such as working at the Information Desk or Gift Shop, Thomes says the types of opportunities are as varied as the volunteers themselves. Baby boomers are volunteering in greater numbers that ever before. They bring a new level of experience and skills, as well as a need for flexibility in scheduling.  “It’s all about making the volunteer experience as meaningful and manageable as possible. If someone has a specific skill or interest they’d like to explore, we do our best to find a suitable opportunity for them,” says Thomes. “So many of our positions are behind the scenes, offering clinical and administrative support. This allows our staff to breathe a little and spend more quality time with the patients. Our Human Resources Department actually has more volunteers than staff!”

There are plenty of volunteers working directly with the patients as well. Courtesy Cart drivers transport patients and visitors from the parking lot to the hospital. Volunteer Chaplains offer spiritual and emotional support. And complementary therapies opportunities such as Music, Pet and Humor Therapy help patients feel comfortable and relaxed.

And the volunteers reap the rewards as well. A Carnegie Mellon University study reports that 200 hours of volunteering per year correlates to lower blood pressure. Some studies indicate health benefit from as little as 100 hours of volunteering per year.

The group of regulars in the YRMC cafeteria each Thursday is certain proof that volunteering is good for the body, mind and spirit. And regardless of the number of hours you put in, volunteering makes a difference in your community.

If you would like to learn more about opportunities to volunteer at YRMC, please call (928) 771-5678.