Volunteering: Good for the soul

Volunteering: Good for the soul

Volunteering is not only good for the community — it’s good for you, too. In fact, studies show the act of volunteering boosts physical and mental health and may even help you live longer. 

Ohio has an abundance of good causes to donate your time to. Here are five unique volunteer opportunities that could be a great fit for someone 
in your family.

OhioHealth Fore Hope

OhioHealth Fore Hope

United in Stride
Refugee Response
Ohio Village Muffins
Ohio Village Diamonds
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Get golfers back onto the links

Golfers living with the effects of a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or other neurological conditions can get back into the game, thanks to OhioHealth Fore Hope. The golf therapy program provides physical, cognitive, and social benefits, but it requires a helping hand, since balance is often an issue. Volunteers tee up golf balls, position putters, and perform other simple tasks that make a big difference. 

Mindy Derr started Fore Hope in 1989 to help her father, an avid golfer, reconnect with his clubs after an illness. Today, 20 volunteers assist 70 central Ohioans with year-round programming.

“When we’re on the golf course, we need as many people as we can get,” Derr says. “Our volunteers act as cheerleaders, help with stretching, and talk golf. They love golf, and they understand that people need hope.”

Train for a race with a visually impaired runner

Dee Char believed her running days were behind her when a retinal degenerative disease affected her vision. Several years later, she was inspired to try again after a legally blind woman won Cincinnati’s Flying Pig marathon. 

Today, Char uses United in Stride to connect with sighted runners near her Dayton home and while traveling so she can run safely outdoors. Volunteers share their pace, running goals, and interests online, then meet local visually impaired runners to go for a one-time run, train for a marathon, or anything in between. Although the organization offers tutorials, runners have to find their own style, Char says.

“There’s no one way to guide someone, so it’s something you figure out together,” she says. “Some runners want constant communication. Some use a tether or a cane. Some pairs get so good at it that they don’t need to use words anymore.” 

Experience another culture without leaving town 

Cleveland-area volunteers can help refugee students from Burma, Afghanistan, Syria, and other faraway places establish American roots through Refugee Response. Twice a week, mentors visit students’ homes to help them strengthen literacy and math skills, build good study habits, and learn to navigate school technology. In return, mentors gain insights into another culture and form lasting relationships with resilient families who are part of their community. 

“The program is not about test prep or achieving a certain score,” says Naila Paul, Refugee Response director of education. “It’s about building confidence and a positive attitude toward education.”

Play vintage baseball

Travel back in time by joining a baseball team that plays by 1860s rules (underhand pitching, no gloves, no helmets, no balls and strikes). The Ohio Village Muffins and Diamonds share their love of history through exhibition games. Volunteers act as players, umpires, scorekeepers, and historic interpreters who explain the game to audiences in Ohio and beyond, along with the appropriate way to cheer (“Huzzah!”). 

Longtime player and advisory board chair Aaron Seddon said both men and women played baseball in the 19th century, and today’s games make history accessible to people of all ages. 

“Vintage baseball is a way to step back into history, but the outcome of the game has yet to be determined, which makes it exciting,” he says. 

Ride through a national park on a heritage railroad 

More than 1,200 volunteers donate their time to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, a nonprofit historic railroad that offers educational trips through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Ohio and Erie Canalway. They do everything from refurbishing train cars to helping out in the gift shop.

“Some of our volunteers are carrying on the legacy of their fathers or grandfathers who worked on the railroad. Others rode the train as kids. Some are looking to give back and meet new people,” says Sherri Lemley, manager of volunteer relations. “Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization.”