HEALTH & WELLNESS Improve Your Mental Health by Giving Back S tudies on health and volunteering reveal that people who volunteer report feeling emotionally, mentally and physically better. In fact, volunteering has been linked to lower stress levels, lower levels of depression, and longevity. There are several simple and easy ways to get involved in your community, and make a difference for others - and for yourself. Volunteering. Nonprofit organizations rely on the support of loyal donors and volunteers to deliver on their missions to improve the communities they serve. Time and talent are among the most valuable gifts you can give a deserving cause. One of the greatest benefits of volunteering is the chance to put your energy and abilities to use for a cause you care about - whether it’s feeding the hungry, rescuing animals or some other cause that is close to your heart. Volunteering provides a feel-good way to pursue your personal interests. Giving blood. According to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs blood every 2 seconds. There is an ongoing need to replenish a community’s blood supplies, whether for medical uses or in the aftermath of a tragedy. Giving blood is fast, relatively painless, and can save lives. Donating. Money doesn’t make the world go 'round, or so the saying goes. However, it can make a difference when it comes to bettering the community. Nonprofit and community organizations rely on monetary contributions, not only to fulfill their existing program needs, but also to expand those services to impact more people. Rather than a single, one-time gift, consider setting up an ongoing donation so your impact continues over time. For small or rural nonprofits in particular, a little bit goes a long way. Another touching way to donate funds: Give in honor of a loved one, either as a gift for a special occasion or in memoriam. Another way to help your community thrive is by exploring avenues to create new funding opportunities for nonprofits. For example, the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program (growcommunities. com) provides farmers an opportunity to help a nonprofit of their choice. Since 2010, the program has given more than $26 million to nonprofits, including food banks, emergency response organizations, youth agriculture programs and more. Paying it forward. Not every step you take in support of your community has to be a large one. In fact, the ripple effect of a series of smaller deeds can have a truly momentous impact. You can set the feel- good wheels in motion in your own community by simply thinking about a time when someone generously gave their own resources to benefit you and paying forward that kindness with a matching endeavor. You might let a frenzied mom go ahead of you in line at the grocery store, or pay for a meal for the elderly couple behind you at the drive-through. Small gestures spread a feel-good spirit that can encourage others to do their part to make the community a better place, as well. These are just a few ways that you can give back. Get out and meet with your friends and neighbors in your community to discover how you can best use your time and talents to hel p the greater good. Source: America’s Farmer’s Community Outreach Programs 88 GAZELLE STL