Giving to Help Others May be the Secret to Happiness, Studies Suggest

It is a timeless question: What is the secret to happiness?
There is a wealth of scientific research that provides compelling data to support that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth, lasting happiness, improved health and even living longer lives.
Many studies confirm that donating time and service to others could lead to happiness. Yet, an increasing number concludes that individuals who spent their money on other people are happier than those who spent money on themselves.
One well-known example was published in 2008.  Michael Norton, assistant professor at the Harvard Business School (HBS), conducted a series of studies with his colleagues Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  A total of 632 Americans were asked about their level of income and what they spent their money on. They were also asked to rate their own happiness. Norton and his colleagues found that people are happier when they spend money on others versus on themselves.
But Norton, Dunn and Aknin discovered something else.  He noted that beyond donating to their favorite charity, volunteering with their favorite charity also brought people happiness. Research at London School of Economics is among several that confirm those findings.  The London School study found the more individuals volunteered, the happier they were. Interestingly, they found those who spent time helping others, were likely to feel as if they had more time to themselves.
There are studies that show health benefits to giving. The Cleveland Clinic reports that giving is also good for the giver by boosting physical and mental health. According to numerous studies, benefits of giving financially or through volunteerism may include: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, greater happiness and even longer life.
University of Buffalo researchers found that those who give and display unselfishness throughout their lives could be linked to a lower risk of early death.
In 2013, The journal BMC Public Health published a review of 40 studies that examined the effect of volunteering on happiness and overall health. Results showed that volunteering not only improved life satisfaction, but also helped in decreasing depression among volunteers.
A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure and arterial pressure than people who didn’t.  Supportive interaction with others also helped people recover from coronary-related events.
The United Way of Forsyth County (UWFC) provides opportunities to give and help others in ways unmatched by any other local organization.  That’s because UWFC brings the community and its resources together to solve problems no one organization can address alone.
UWFC invites you to join us.  Give your money and time, it could change and perhaps extend your life.

Press Release: Philo-Hill Magnet Academy Students Participate in School of Hard Knocks

WINSTON-SALEM, NC – About 300 seventh and eighth graders at Philo-Hill Magnet Academy learned about budgeting and personal finance management recently when they participated in the School of Hard Knocks experience.

Coordinated by the Woman’s Leadership Council, an affinity group of the United Way of Forsyth County, the event involved 16 classes.

The School of Hard Knocks is a hands on financial literacy learning experience for seventh and eighth graders to learn about real life money management. Students are given a salary and budget worksheet prior to the activity. They each visit budgeting tables where volunteers will help them manage their money and invest wisely.  Students learn to manage several budgeting categories, such as: housing, transportation, groceries, food, life unexpected situations, insurance, utilities, phone/internet, lifestyle and bank/saving.

Press Release: RAIS Finance Pros Put in 80 Volunteer Hours Easing the Tax-Prep Burden for Forsyth County Residents

Tax season is taxing for most of us, but many lower-income and elderly people find it especially complex and costly. A helping hand can make a big difference.

Each year, as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, qualified volunteer tax preparers in Forsyth County, N.C., fan out across the community, preparing taxes for free for people making $54,000 a year or less. This year, group of six RAI Services (RAIS) employees — all finance professionals — joined the volunteer effort on behalf of the nonprofit Experiment in Self-Reliance after getting the necessary training and certification.

“It was truly a rewarding experience,” said Edna Bonilla, a senior manager in the finance department and one of the volunteers. “The clientele is very grateful for the patience, time and knowledge invested in assisting them with the preparation of their tax returns. I would gladly volunteer going forward and encourage others to participate in the VITA program.”

The other volunteers this year were Joshua Hulin, Liqing Carey, Bruce Nix, Jim Carros and Dianise Maldonado. All were recently honored for their work with community-service certificates from the Internal Revenue Service, and they received special thank-you letters from the Experiment in Self Reliance. “They did an exceptional job, collectively contributing 80 hours this past tax season, and the payback was huge,” said Jerry Romans, vice president of special projects and board chairman of the local agency.

The VITA program, which is also supported by the United Way of Forsyth County, focuses on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This represents the largest anti-poverty program in the U.S., lifting 9 million people out of poverty by providing low-income working adults with a tax credit based on their income. On average, a qualified Forsyth County taxpayer receives $1,700 in EITC credit, and sometimes the credit can be more than the amount earned during the year. In addition to benefiting working families, the credit brings money directly into the community. Volunteer tax preparers are educated on tax credits and help people receive every tax credit for which they qualify. For the 2017 tax season, nearly 4,000 returns — generating about $4.9 million in refunds, of which $2.3 million were EITC — were done through VITA/EITC programs in Forsyth County.

“This free tax preparation service is very much in line with our philanthropic mission,” Romans said. “It has a major economic impact, but it is very volunteer intensive, and we would love for more of our employees to participate next year.”

BLOG: Home Fire Campaign Hopes to Save Lives

In an ongoing effort to reduce death and injury from home fires, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign is hosting a series of installation and fire safety events across the country. Red Cross volunteers, along with fire departments and other partners, are canvassing neighborhoods, installing free smoke alarms, replacing batteries in existing alarms and helping families create escape plans. 
Since 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign has saved at least 215 lives and installed more than more than 744,000 smoke alarms in more than 9,400 cities and towns across the United States.
The local American Red Cross is also sounding the alarm of prevention by offering free smoke alarm installation to any Forsyth County or Piedmont Triad resident.
A United Way of Forsyth County supported partner, the American Red Cross of the Western North Carolina Region, which includes Forsyth County, is installing smoke alarms equipped with 10-year life batteries to any home that does not have one, and is also replacing old batteries for homes with smoke alarms, totally free of cost.
According to local Red Cross officials four percent of all homes nationwide have no smoke alarms, yet those homes account for 37 percent of all deaths and major injuries due to fires.
“About, 21 percent of the homes with smoke alarms have expired batteries,” said Thomas Dunn, of the disasters programs unit of the local Red Cross. “People should also keep in mind that the average life of a smoke alarm is 10 years, then they should be replaced,” Dunn noted.
Each year, the Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters nationally, the vast majority of which are home fires. The organization has set a goal to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries in the US by 25% by 2020.  On average, according to national statistics provided by Red Cross website, seven people die every day from a home fire, most impacting children and the elderly; 36 people suffer injuries as a result of home fires every day and more than $7 billion in property damage occurs every year.
For installation of a free smoke alarm or for a smoke alarm battery replacement, contact the American Red Cross of the Western North Carolina Region at 336-701-3476.

Treehouse Foundation

18 years ago I became a foster parent after reading a heartbreaking newspaper article about a 5-month-old baby who was kidnapped from his crib in foster care. The article was a catalyst for my family to step up to the plate and support our foster care system. My husband and I enrolled in foster parent training classes and were delighted when two beautiful little sisters were placed in our home.

I knew very little about our foster care system. I had one foot in the “Land of Opportunity” where my children by birth grew up, and where they received all of the resources they needed to live healthy, connected and fulfilling lives. My other foot was planted firmly in the “Land of Child Welfare” where resources are scarce, and every year nearly 25,000 young people “age out” of foster care and are at risk for homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, teen parenting and lives of poverty.

As a former teacher, I believe in the promise we make to children when we remove them from their homes: to provide them with safety, and to find them a permanent loving connection if they cannot be returned to their first family. Additionally, I realized they needed passionate advocates to fight on their behalf and ensure they have everything they need to live productive and fulfilling lives.

In 2002, I established a vibrant nonprofit organization called the Treehouse Foundation. My goal: To move children out of foster care into permanent, loving families and communities that invest in their hopes, dreams, lives and futures.

The Treehouse community is a 60-home village located in Easthampton, MA, in the heart of the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. Our intergenerational approach supports families adopting children from foster care and their neighbors, older Americans (55+), who act as “honorary grandparents.”

Treehouse is a special place where all generations thrive. In our first decade, we have accomplished many milestones. Families are strong. Kids are growing up surrounded by people who love them. They are graduating from high schools, colleges and vocational programs to pursue their dreams. Elders are imparting their knowledge to the next generation and actively investing in foster care innovation.

This year, as we celebrate our 11th anniversary, the Treehouse team is preparing to share our model with states all over the U.S. Plans are in place to build two more Treehouse communities in California and Massachusetts that will benefit upwards of 250 people.

I’m thrilled that America will soon meet the wonderful children and youth, families and elders living at Treehouse when our community is featured on “The Hero Effect,” a docu-series presented by United Way that airs on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. I encourage you to tune in on May 13 at 10:00 am EDT to learn how you can get involved in the Treehouse Foundation or support youth in foster care in your community.