By Michelle Femminella

It’s no secret that volunteerism has a sizable impact on community wellbeing. Volunteers help protect the environment, provide food and shelter for those who need it, and fill an array of other crucial social needs. Here at Sing for Hope, our volunteers share their creative talents  with New Yorkers who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the transformative power of the arts.

As Manager of Volunteer Service, I’ve seen firsthand how this simple act of making art accessible to all can have a huge impact. And empirical studies demonstrate that music can REKINDLE MEMORIES IN ALZHEIMER’S PATIENTS, that ARTS TRAINING CAN BOOST COGNITIVE ABILITY in children, and that playing an instrument has the power to HELP THOSE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION AND PTSD.

But we rarely look at how volunteers themselves benefit from the act of giving back.

Certainly volunteering springs from altruism: people want to give back to their community, to make a palpable difference in the lives of others. But could there be some remarkable side effects for those who give regularly of their time and talents?

Could the benefits of volunteering actually be a two-way street?

SURVEY CONDUCTED IN 2013 by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute found that the act of volunteering is not only an enormous mood booster, but for over 75% of people surveyed, it also contributed to lower stress levels and overall health. A study at Carnegie Mellon University reported that dedicated volunteers (those who commit 200 hours a year to volunteering) even HAD LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE AND LONGER LIFE EXPECTANCY. The mental benefits, meanwhile, include FEELING MORE PURPOSEFUL AND CONNECTED AND WARDING OFF LONELINESS AND DEPRESSION. Indeed, the survey above reports that a stunning 96% of volunteers felt enriched in their sense of purpose in life through the act of volunteering.

Volunteer Artist Nana Shi performs at the New York Memory Center. (Photo Credit: Shawn Hoke)

My goal at Sing for Hope is not only to ensure that we grow our roster and scale up our impact on the community, but also to make sure that our volunteers have a meaningful and rewarding experience while they donate their time. I’ve marvelled at the new friendships and networks formed between our Volunteer Artists, at the impromptu musical projects dreamed up by new roster collaborators, at the countless smiles on volunteer’s faces as they leave our partner sites.

Dedicated Volunteer Artist VALERIE SALGADO states that ,volunteering with Sing for Hope gives [her] a stronger purpose as an artist. Volunteer Artist Laura Ricciardi, also a 2013 Pianos Artist, shares that ,Sing for Hope reminds [her] of why [she] makes art.

Valerie leads a dance workshop during Sing for Hope’s Summer Arts Intensive, a free weeklong arts program for NYC youth. (Photo Credit: Roderick Lapid)Visual and performing artists spend their countless hours creating and practicing in solitude for the inimitable thrill of sharing their work with others. When they can share their creativity in a setting as intimate as a hospital room or classroom, the artist has a rare chance to commune with their audience’s rawest emotions in real time. ,When performing in front of an audience, you can hear the applause, says Valerie, ,but you can’t see that leap of enlightenment. ,Volunteering with Sing for Hope, she adds, ,allows me to connect with people I wouldn’t necessarily come in contact with and see the direct positive impact my art has on their lives.

Visual Artist Laura Ricciardi leads students at the Summer Arts Intensive in creating Andy Warhol inspired self-portraits. ,Creating art brings me so much joy, says Laura, ,and when I see that I’ve given others the chance to experience that, it’s the most incredible feeling in the world. (Photo Credit: Sing for Hope Staff)In the end, our Volunteer Artists aren’t motivated by the idea that volunteering will give them a mood boost or relieve stress. They are there because they believe in the simple power of, art for all and want to bring the joy and inspiration of the arts to communities that need it. Along the way, they are often surprised by just how much the experience affects them too–renewing their purpose as an artist or opening their eyes to how their art touches others.

Most of us are moved to make art, shares Laura, because we believe that there is power in art to heal, to inspire, to uplift, to give voice to the voiceless and shine a light in the dark.  So yes, the benefits of less stress, more smiles, more connection to my community are there.  But the deepest ones are the ones that remind me of why I’m doing this in the first place.

Michelle Femminella is Manager of Volunteer Service at Sing for Hope. To inquire about becoming a Volunteer Artist with Sing for Hope, please visitWWW.SINGFORHOPE.ORG/VOLUNTEER or email Michelle at [email protected].