As we move into the winter and holiday season, it is common for many people to experience lower levels of mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse.” That, combined with dealing with seasonal depression, can make the holiday season incredibly difficult for some.
Two things that have been found to boost mental health are healthy relationships and volunteerism — and an app has been created that combines the two.
Swoovy is an Austin-based, online dating and connections platform which introduces its users to volunteer opportunities in order to increase volunteerism while fostering relationships. As social distancing guidelines persist, this app has allowed people to form new relationships and boost mental health while giving back to the community in a safe and helpful way.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve really found that community outreach is one of my big passions,” Summer McAfee, Swoovy user says. “Just being able to help, whether it be mentoring kids or volunteering at the food bank or doing care packages for the soldiers that are deployed, I just feel like it’s one of those things that you just feel good about doing some good.”
Many studies have shown the mental health benefits for volunteering. According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), volunteering is significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms, psychological distress, mortality and functional inability.
“As someone who has been single since quarantine started, I’ve stayed home a lot, and the social interaction of being able to do something fun and catch up with somebody — all of that aspect is gone,” McAfee says. “For me, Swoovy has been great, because volunteering virtually has helped fill my cup. Even though I’m pouring out and doing good, as someone who’s been solo in quarantine, it’s also helped keep me energized and feel good.”
Swoovy launched just over a year and a half ago as a dating app. Since then, the app has grown to serve couples, corporate and educational groups. Currently, Swoovy is working to launch a kickstarter to begin connecting like-minded people who are seeking to make friends in the area.
Partnering with over 100 nonprofits in Austin, Brooke Waupsh, CEO of Swoovy, says she wanted to make opportunities to fit multiple interests.
“We have everything from partnerships with the Austin Parks Foundation, where you can go out and do a beautification project, [and]with the Austin Animal Center, where you can go play with dogs and cats, help bathe them, walk them. We also have a lot of different opportunities with the food bank and Caritas, who helps people experiencing homelessness,” Waupsh says. “Across the board, we cover everything from supporting kids, seniors, hunger, the arts, animals — you name it.”
Because of COVID-19, Waupsh says Swoovy worked with nonprofits to continue to offer virtual volunteer opportunities.
Recently, Colin’s Hope, a homegrown organization focused on educating people on water safety and drowning prevention, partnered with Swoovy to provide an at-home, corporate group project.
One of the primary ways Colin’s Hope educates families and caregivers is through water safety cards, says Alissa Magrum, executive director of Colin’s Hope. Each year, they rely on volunteers to put together 75,000 of these cards.
“We were actually worried at the beginning of coronavirus, because March and April are when we typically have volunteers assembling them, and our corporate volunteers were not at work, and people were not in a place where we thought we were going to be able to get that handled,” Magrum says. “So, we actually turned it into a volunteer, at-home project and had all 75,000 of them assembled by volunteers.”
Waupsh says by partnering with Colin’s Hope, Swoovy was able to connect the nonprofit with corporate volunteers and host a Swoovy happy hour using their corporate group feature.
“This corporate group did an event where kits were delivered to employees with contactless delivery,” Waupsh says. “They were able to listen to music, socialize, play games using different polling features, and the nonprofit came on and spoke about what they do and their organization, and then everybody was able to complete the service needed for the nonprofit.”
Magrum says volunteering is not only beneficial for volunteers but for nonprofits, too.
“The volunteers are sort of the lifeblood of this organization alongside our small staff and volunteer board of directors,” Magrum says. “We want volunteers to feel like they’re doing something and know that they’re making an impact. One unique thing about our volunteer opportunities is we are able to educate any of our volunteers about water safety. So that, for us, is a great way for us also to do our mission and our work.”
While McAfee did not participate in the virtual event with Colin’s Hope, she says it’s through Swoovy that she has had the opportunity to participate in virtual volunteering events where she is able to experience more natural conversations and see how volunteering can foster healthy relationships.
“I think volunteering really helps you build good communication together when you start off, because here’s an opportunity to work on something together and to talk about something new,” McAfee says. “It doesn’t feel as much pressure as a typical date; it feels more relaxed.”
According to a survey from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, results indicate volunteering is actually good for the health of relationships.
In addition, more than 80% of those who have volunteered in the past year would be more willing to date a person they met volunteering than through an online dating site, according to the survey.
Waupsh says when the idea for Swoovy started, volunteering and online dating seemed an unlikely but cohesive fit.
“The idea of Swoovy actually started when I was in conversation with friends about their dating experience with apps and people they met,” Waupsh says. “We saw an opportunity to launch this new kind of dating app that would bring people together that were like-minded, community-oriented and deliver service to nonprofits through volunteerism.”