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Consider volunteering as your resolution for new year
Jan. 06, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Even though less than half of all Americans usually make new year’s resolutions, the idea of getting a fresh start on life is very appealing. We all have things we’d like to change, and the turn of a new year gives us all a sense of optimism and hope that better things are ahead.

What’s the most popular resolution?

You’re right: losing weight. It’s no surprise that losing weight tops this year’s list, according to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. To prove the point, just turn on your television and watch the steady parade of dieting commercials that kick off each December and continue through January and well into the new year.

What are the other top resolutions?

According to the journal, the second most-popular is “getting organized,” a fairly broad resolution that probably means different things to different people. That one is followed in third place by “spend less, save more,” an especially popular idea with so many people facing holiday bills in a sluggish economy; “enjoy life to the fullest,” another one of those happy, but vague, resolutions; and “staying fit and healthy,” the fifth-ranked entry and a more-upbeat way of expressing the desire to get in shape for the new year.

The top five are followed by: “learn something exciting”; “quit smoking,” another habitually popular selection; “help others in their dreams”; “fall in love,” a resolution that seems slightly beyond anyone’s complete control; and “spend more time with family.”

Though it didn’t appear on this list in so many words, volunteering to help others is a popular resolution in many lists — and one that’s clearly reflected in the idea of “helping others in their dreams.” Those who spend a lot of time volunteering in our community understand what a life-changing experience this can be for everyone.

It’s easy to see how critical it can be for those receiving help. In our community, volunteers are helping preschoolers “visit” far-away places and learn all about their world by reading books for story time. Doctors are providing life-saving care at a free clinic for patients who can’t afford medical services. Churches are providing a place for homeless families to live while they’re learning to become — and remain — self-sufficient.

But it’s not just the people receiving help who enjoy a richer life. It’s the people who are providing the help, too. Ask volunteers and they’ll gladly explain the joy they receive while helping others. Even those who were reluctant to volunteer at first — or may have started through some sense of obligation — quickly discover how rewarding it can be.

Not only is volunteering a resolution that helps everyone, but it’s a resolution that’s easy to achieve. There are hundreds of churches, schools and nonprofit groups that can use volunteers at this very moment, and you don’t even have to commit a lot of time. Reading to children, for example, usually takes less than an hour and doesn’t require any specialized skill. And there are plenty of other opportunities that give you a chance to test the waters before making any long-term commitment.

Even getting involved is simple.

With the new Volunteer Lee website — now available at volunteerlee.com — anyone can browse through a list of local volunteer groups and opportunities in our own community. You can even see who needs your help right now by clicking the red “login/join” button and answering a few simple questions. Your information will be passed along to organizations that desperately need your help.

Organizations needing volunteers also can get connected by clicking the blue “organization signup” button and answering some initial questions. The Volunteer Lee site is still under construction and will be even better in a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started right away.

Only about 8 percent of people are successful in achieving their new year’s resolutions, according to the journal. But with many volunteer options taking relatively little time and making connections so easy, why not make volunteering your resolution for the new year?

Your decision can help others fulfill their dreams, enrich your own life and start out the new year with success!

Jan Hayes is executive director of the United Way of Lee County.