Community Volunteer Fair: helping others and helping you

Tasha Hall, Campus Life Reporter

Sometimes, the best way to destress after a day of exams, multiple classes and a stack of homework is to get your mind off the academic track. For some people, this could be by walking dogs, taking care of cats or reading books to children at the library. Volunteering has become an avenue for not only helping others, but helping yourself. The Community Volunteer Fair on March 28 gave plenty of options for how and where to volunteer. 

Rebecca Thorpe works as the engagement lead for the Blue Zones Project in the Walla Walla Valley. Her job is to create events to advertise volunteering opportunities. A lot of marketing, ads in the Union-Bulletin, a ton of social media posts, reaching out to colleges and reaching out to the general community produced a large turnout at the Community Volunteer Fair. 

“I think it’s been a really successful event. I think we’re just incredibly pleased. We had over thirty organizations,” Thorpe said. “I’ve been to a lot of events where I’ve been behind the table, and this is one of the biggest ones I’ve seen; I was really pleased and excited to see all of the organizations coming together for volunteers in the Valley.” 

One of the biggest hallmarks of volunteering is that it can bring great health benefits to oneself. 

“[The Blue Zones project is] a community initiative where we try to help the community become healthier. One of the things we know is that if you volunteer — if you’re a consistent volunteer — you will live seven to fourteen years longer,” Thorpe said. “There are studies out there. Not just years, but good years. It’s good for your health to volunteer. When you give back, you get back.” 

While studies usually measure the benefits of volunteering to older adults, their findings can still apply to college students and professors. Such studies have found that volunteering at least 200 hours was associated with greater increases in psychological well-being and physical activity compared to non-volunteers.  In addition, for college students, volunteering can help increase one’s physical activity and self-worth, which are stepping stones to great outcomes later in life.

Volunteering opportunities that provide mentally stimulating activities, like tutoring or reading to kids, are helpful for maintaining cognitive abilities like memory and thinking skills. For people who have negative tendencies or views towards oneself, or for students who feel pressure to succeed in the academic world, the act of helping others can be a sort of therapy. It can become something that allows students to make a difference and create a positive impact

Thorpe has a history of volunteering. She does it for the sheer fun of it and for the joy of seeing that help is available to those who need it. 

“[The volunteering opportunities] are all so incredible and diverse,” Thorpe said. “I swear if you fall in Walla Walla, there will be a pillow. All of these people that are here getting volunteers help community members make sure that there are services and things for folks in this community, so it’s pretty incredible. I love Walla Walla.”

Junior Sunny Wen volunteers to read to kids of different ages as part of the Story Time program. Not only does this program work to improve the children’s understanding and linguistic skills, but it also opens them up to different cultures and environments. 

“I have experience reading books from a lot of Asian cultures, South American cultures and some Native American cultures,” Wen said. 

She joined the Story Time program as a sophomore to partake in something outside of her academic work. It was advertised as a volunteer program on Whitman’s website

“It was a good chance for me to step [outside my] comfort zone and read to the younger generation,” Wen said. “It would also improve my pronunciation and communicative skills.” 

Other volunteering activities involve bringing awareness to issues that plague communities at large. YWCA Communications Coordinator Jan Dolph works with volunteers on a variety of projects that involve helping others who’ve been hurt by assault and abuse. A project she has worked on with a few volunteers is making pinwheels and assembling signs for Child Abuse Prevention Month. These signs are displayed in a number of places, including the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, Walla Walla Clinic Pediatrics, Walla Walla Pediatric Dentistry, Department of Children, Youth and Family Services, Children’s Home Society and more. 

“The idea is to celebrate the joy of childhood and remember that every child deserves to feel safe,” Dolph said. “We are [also] observing Go Blue Day on April 7 and encouraging everyone to wear blue for kids.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be an obstacle to providing many volunteer opportunities in the recent past. Now that mandatory masking has been repealed in many places, they are seeking those who are willing to help. Many of these projects are not static; while some opportunities are given, others can be made. 

“Some of our most successful volunteer projects involve a person or group who works with staff to create their own special project,” Dolph said. “As we strive to get back to ‘normal’ again, more than ever, our dream volunteer is flexible, creative and willing to work with us to create a win-win experience.” 

A good way to build up your community, volunteering has numerous benefits and allows for a great impact. It helps to be part of the safety net for the Walla Walla community.