The Road to Community Service: Benefits to the Community and the Volunteers



The road to community service can go in a number of different directions. For example, high school and college students may volunteer to help older adults in their neighborhood with various activities such as shopping and transport to medical appointments. Nurses can work in communities to provide a range of services including health fairs where blood pressure screenings or other types of services can be offered. Social workers may also work in communities to provide information on a range of support services in the neighborhood. There are many individuals and professionals who, thankfully, are motivated to provide community service to the benefit of others. There are many needs when it comes to helping others living in our communities. Oftentimes, we can think of community service as flowing from younger to older populations. But of course community service does take on many shapes and sizes. 

Another interesting path to community service exists through the Community Service Society of New York (CSSNY). This organization has a number of programs and services that reach all 5 boroughs in varying capacities. For over 40 years, the CSSNY has managed their Advocacy, Counseling, and Entitlement Services (ACES) Project which has trained retired people age 55 and over to work as community volunteers who are then able to help city residents access much needed public benefits. Public health benefits include such things as Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Medicare, Cash Assistance as well as many more. The ACES Project training is substantive and volunteers are required to take an open-source exam at the end of their training to show competency in their ability to understand, teach, advocate and facilitate benefit screening and application. Once trained, volunteers are “matched” which can mean being affiliated with a hospital or community-based organization located in one of the 5 boroughs. Volunteers commit to working in that agency one day a week to help screen and process applications for individuals who are eligible for an array of important benefits and services. 

From the perspective of those of us interested in the health and well-being of older people, engaging in community service can offer several significant benefits to the retired volunteers. For older adults, volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment as well as positive benefits associated with social interaction and belonging. For those involved in the ACES program, there is significant learning and mental acuity that results from the intense training process and routine meetings that take place. For some older people, they are further able to use their professional skill set and gained wisdom to impart valuable information to community members. In a longitudinal study by Kim et al (2021) on volunteering and well-being in older adults, it was found that participants who volunteered over 100 hours per year “had reduced risk of mortality and physical functioning limitations, higher physical activity, and better psychosocial outcomes (higher: positive affect, optimism, purpose in life; lower: depressive symptoms, hopelessness, loneliness, infrequent contact with friends).” In this regard, older adults volunteering in their communities could significantly improve their own health while providing numerous benefits to others. 

At HIGN, there is also considerable community service taking place among our own staff members, faculty and students in notable services and programs curated for older adults in lower areas of New York City. Community service can be summed up well in a quote from activist Dorothy Height (1912-2010). Height was an exemplary student who graduated from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in psychology. She was a notable leader and visionary. She has said, “Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It's important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It's the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.” Persons, no matter their age or background, have the ability to make important contributions through community service. There is the added benefit that they, as the community volunteer, can experience a profound sense of increased mental and physical wellness, purpose and belonging through their empathy for others and their much needed important contributions.


Read the entire July 2024 newsletter here