Winter is often a hard period for many people. People tend to stay indoors due to cooler temperatures and have less spontaneous interaction with neighbors while working in the yard or enjoying outdoor activities. On December 21, the shortest day of the year, Tyler area residents receive approximately four hours less sunlight than on June 21st, the longest day of the year. This lack of sunshine, compounded over many weeks, can take its toll and lead to very real bouts of depression. Whether it’s the lack of sunshine or other personal factors that cause you to feel low or depressed, I would like to offer a solution that won’t require any money and can be a great help to you and others. Serve.

In his September 2019 article in titled “5 Ways Helping Others Can Help You Overcome Depression”, Dr. Ryan Noel Fraser points out that depression affects 1 in 10 adults and is growing rapidly among millennials and teens…and that is from 2019…before we were all sequestered to battle COVID. Dr. Fraser approaches the topic of serving others as a way to overcome depression from a Biblical perspective, but secular psychologists and mental health professionals offer similar advice because it works.

One of Dr. Fraser’s suggestions is “Helping others encourages you to refocus your emotional energy and redirect your negative thought patterns in a more positive direction.” When all you have to be concerned about is yourself, you can feel isolated and enter a downward spiral of self-pity. Helping others allows you to focus on them and their needs. Whether you prefer to work with children, adults, the elderly, ill or disabled, there are numerous charities in our area that could use your assistance. Even if you are not a big fan of working with people, there are many animals in our community that could use your love and attention at local shelters or in foster care while they try to find their forever home.

Two other observations by Dr. Fraser include; “Helping others will supply you with a renewed sense of being a worthy and valuable person….”, and “Helping others by means of hands-on work (or physical labor) will provide the built-in advantage of exercising your physical body.” Restoring your sense of self-worth and getting much-needed exercise are two great results from acts of service. The truth is, many nonprofits rely heavily on volunteer efforts to make their programs function. At the East Texas Communities Foundation, we are in the middle of scholarship season. Nearly 500 applications have been received for scholarships this year and we will benefit from the volunteer services of over 300 scholarship committee members to evaluate applications and recommend recipients. Volunteer tutors and mentors are crucial to programs such as The Mentoring Alliance, Literacy Council of Tyler, and Christian Women’s Job Corps. These nonprofits will give you the tools and guidance you need to become a great volunteer, but these organizations could never afford to pay for the services volunteers provide.

As many organizations restart programs that were suspended during the pandemic, there are many volunteer openings that need to be filled. I know from personal experience that local churches are appealing to congregants to fill the many positions in music, Bible study, and children’s programs that were vacant for many months. Many retirees who provided a “silver army” of volunteers in our community before the pandemic are having to remain cautious due to their seniority and medical vulnerability. The best way we can show respect for our elders is to fill the volunteer positions they remain unable to fill.

Finally, Dr. Fraser observes that helping others can provide valuable social interaction and fellowship. Isolation and loneliness are real conditions that can come upon us without much notice. We were made to live in the community, and making a commitment to serving at a local charity with other volunteers can help fill this important social void.

A simple search of nonprofit websites can provide valuable information about volunteer opportunities. The website is also growing daily as nonprofits register for this year’s online giving event, which will be held on April 26th. The website provides a list of nonprofits that is searchable by categories such as location and type of organization. On each nonprofit organization’s page, you can find details about volunteer opportunities and who to contact to get involved. Perhaps volunteering for a local charity can not only help that organization, but provide a valuable lift for you personally, and be your next best opportunity to Give Well.