PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Celebrations and volunteering aid health of community, individuals
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 8:25 AM
You don't have to travel far to find something to do nearly every weekend of the summer in southeastern Minnesota's Bluff Country. August started out with community celebrations in Lanesboro and Ostrander, continues with celebrations in Chatfield, Lime Springs and Mabel this weekend, then more celebrations in Spring Valley and Canton the following weekend.
Although each celebration is unique, there are some similar themes. The one thing they all have in common is that they are produced entirely by volunteers.
If you ever go behind the scenes to see the planning for these small town events, you'll see they take huge time commitments by the volunteers. Although work gets divided up, each activity takes a lot of time by each individual responsible and then the coordination by the group takes even more time.
You have to wonder why these people keep coming back to it every year, especially when the attitude of some celebrants can be not appreciative, but rather critical. At times, the work involved can seem like a chore - as if it were another job.
However, there is a certain satisfaction in being part of something greater than yourself, contributing to the betterment of your community and doing something that brings smiles to most of the people venturing out to see what is happening in town.
A side benefit, maybe realized by the volunteers only sub-conscientiously, is that volunteering may also be improving your health.
A study by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute for Sustainable Health found a link between volunteer work and better physical, mental and emotional health. The study found that 76 percent of U.S. adults that volunteer report it has made them feel physically healthier and 78 percent report that volunteering lowers their levels of stress, leading them to feel better than adults that don't volunteer.
Other studies have suggested that volunteer work increases self-confidence, combats depression and could help people stay physically healthy, especially older adults. One expert reported that helping someone else stops people from thinking about their own problems and this can make the volunteer's problems feel diminished.
This could be the reason local residents in our small towns don't hesitate to add on to their already busy volunteer schedule. In addition to the annual events, many volunteers take on the annual Relay for Life, which has become so successful, and one-time events such as "The Cruise" for the Ronald McDonald House that recently brought thousands of motorcyclists to Preston and Rushford.
Your problems don't seem so bad when you hear the stories about cancer survivors or children from far away that call the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester their temporary home while they face intensive treatment at area medical facilities.
Our reporter, Anton Adamek, in his column for the Bluff Country Reader, also pointed out that these events add to our health in another way - they get us outside to interact with real people.
We have more ways than ever to connect with people online through social media. There are sites for "friends" to connect with each other and there are specialized sites to check on people that are undergoing medical treatment due to an accident or illness. They are of great value, allowing people to interact with each other over great distances or in between burdensome time commitments of our seemingly too-busy lives.
Yet, in many ways that is an artificial community. Real community - and real life - is outside your door. You just have to open it up and step outside into the real world.
There is a certain hunger for this type of real - or perhaps some would say old-fashioned - community that engages people in face-to-face interactions with people they may, or may not, know.
Even just showing up to these events contributes to the health of our communities. And, if you want to improve your own health, why not give volunteering a shot? There is little risk and the reward could make a lasting impact on not only your life, but the lives of others in the community.