Volunteering is Good for You, and the Community Too

Furniture Bank of Central Ohio

It’s another busy Tuesday afternoon at the woodshop as a team of volunteers build and assemble a dresser – one of 8,000 dressers in fact. The volunteer woodworking crew at the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio is comprised of a hardworking and passionate group of carpenters, cabinet makers, and handy folks that know their way around tools. The majority of the woodshop volunteers that come every Tuesday and Wednesday are retirees and seniors, looking for a way to lend their lifetime of skills to help families in need and support their community right here in Central Ohio.

The idea for the woodshop at the Furniture Bank sprang from the overwhelming demand of families in need. Mason Pilcher, a member of the Board of Directors, and a woodshop volunteer, was influential in making the woodshop what it is today. After retiring, Pilcher took the lead and applied his years of product development at Ross Labs to the process of furniture building, dramatically increasing output and bringing in many of his friends with woodworking backgrounds.

Pilcher has been involved since 2010, and has always emphasized the importance of putting a “face” on the public’s awareness of the Furniture Bank. Taking visitors through the woodshop gives people the opportunity to see what the organization is all about. The President of the Furniture Bank, Steve Votaw, recognizes the importance of our group of senior volunteers in their prime, “Our senior volunteers set up our woodshop and make over 2,000 dressers a year. The beauty of the Furniture Bank is that people can contribute in ways other than monetarily, and it makes a significant difference in the lives of 10,000 people right here in central Ohio.”

The generosity of the senior community helps support the mission of the Furniture Bank to turn empty houses into homes. The organization provides furniture to Central Ohio families and individuals struggling with poverty and other severe life challenges. Their vision is for all families to live in furnished homes, thereby relieving suffering, strengthening family units, improving quality of life and building a better community. Votaw touched on some of the citizens that help the Furniture Bank meet the need, “We receive 60,000 pieces of furniture through donations from over 7,000 people, many of them seniors. Furniture, household goods, and household decorations all help create the feeling of ‘home.’”

There are mutual benefits between the giver and receiver when volunteering your time and experience with places like the Furniture Bank. Nationwide studies have shown many health benefits to seniors that volunteer in their community. According to these studies, a simple act of generosity creates significant health effects like lower blood pressure, lower risk of dementia, less anxiety and depression, reduced cardiovascular risk, and overall greater happiness. From a study at the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York, the findings were that volunteering keeps people active in the present, instead of focusing on hardships and stress in their own life. The studies show that acts of kindness and helping others actually activate the parts of the brain responsible for feelings of gratification, releasing “happiness” chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that elevate your overall mood.

As one of their most active donor bases, the generosity of the senior population in Central Ohio is critical to meeting the growing needs of families that use the services of the Furniture Bank. Their senior volunteers were influential to the growth and development of the woodshop, to supplying items to families that are not regularly donated. The current need for furniture is greater than can be met through traditional fundraising and donation methods; this has led the Furniture Bank to find new ways of increasing furniture donations.

One of these new methods is through the development of their social enterprise program, Downsize with a Heart. This program will provide a valuable service to the senior population in Central Ohio, and at the same time increase both funding and furniture donations to support the Furniture Bank’s mission. A social enterprise is a business that creates sustainable revenue to support the mission and goals of its parent non-profit organization. The Downsize with a Heart program is a way for the Furniture Bank to help and support the senior community that has been so significant in helping the larger community through the organization’s services.

Downsize with a Heart is a personalized, fee-based service for home downsizing, moving, and dispersal of unwanted items. Their staff is part of the larger team at the Furniture Bank, but they are also certified members of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, and are focused on helping seniors transition to their next phase of living. Their services help seniors take the next step, while helping those in need take the first step to a better life. Votaw says that this social enterprise program, “will allow the Furniture Bank to create a sustainable revenue and furniture donation source that has the capacity to grow as the population ages.” With the population of people 65 and older in Central Ohio expected to grow to 200,000 by 2040, the Downsize with a Heart program will provide a valuable service to senior citizens while ensuring the longevity of the Furniture Bank.

Votaw says, “We know that seniors are extremely generous and we believe many seniors will choose our social enterprise when downsizing because any surplus revenue goes to support the mission of turning empty houses into homes, and not into corporate profits.” The hope is that any client using Downsize with a Heart when moving out of the family home and into a smaller apartment or assisted living facility, will choose to donate their unwanted or leftover furniture to the cause. These types of donations can be written off for taxes too, helping to subsidize the cost of a move.

This on-going cycle of others helping others will contribute to the Furniture Bank’s ability to serve 4,000 families in need annually. Through the generosity of 8,000 furniture donations and 2,000 volunteers the organization says they are able to share “10,000 acts of kindness” each year. Become a part of their acts of kindness, and consider volunteering your time, donating funds or furniture, using their Downsize with a Heart services, and spreading the word about their organization. After all, volunteering is good for you, and the community too.

To find out how to get involved or learn about their services, contact the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio; www.furniturebankcoh.org or 614-545-3838 or info@furniturebankcoh.org

This article was first posted in the Senior Times, March 2017, Volume 36, Issue 3