Volunteering: small acts, big change

For many communities across the country, the smallest acts of kindness can make the biggest difference. Whether it’s working at a local soup kitchen, visiting a nursing home, mentoring youth, or helping to paint a local house in disrepair, there are many ways to get involved.

Not only does volunteering help others, but it can actually help you too. In fact, the health benefits of volunteering can include reduced stress and an increased feeling of self-worth. Additionally, research has shown that for people with chronic conditions, being physically active can help to control joint swelling and pain.

When Debbie McGrady, a 56-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), she decided she was not going to allow the condition to take over her life. RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the lining of the joints, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. While McGrady has had to deal with occasional pain and stiffness, she was determined to regain control of her physical and emotional health and to keep active. She decided to get involved with Hand in Hand for RA, a national campaign that found that 40 percent of RA patients would like to give back to their communities by volunteering.

For McGrady, volunteering has proven to be very rewarding and fun. She drives seniors to their doctor’s appointments, to the drugstore and helps them with other errands. “Volunteering is such a gratifying feeling and allows me to focus on helping others as opposed to my disease,” says McGrady. “The smallest things can make a world of difference for somebody and certainly make me feel good too.”

Founded in 2009, Hand in Hand for RA is a national awareness campaign that encourages people with RA to learn about the benefits of volunteering and share their own inspirational stories. It allows people living with the disease to discuss their experiences with others going through the same obstacles.

“We’ve seen that many people with RA share a common desire to volunteer,” says Seth Ginsberg, co-founder and president of grassroots arthritis group CreakyJoints, an online community for people with arthritis and a partner of the campaign. “I am inspired when I hear that others are giving back, despite their diseases.”

This year, give back to your community and lend a helping hand. For more information on how to get involved visit www.handinhandforRA.com.