Volunteer to Make A Difference
In the quiet early morning hours of my Indiana day, before the voices of George and Robin blast across the living room, before the computer's whir stagnates my senses, before the crashing of the dumpster being emptied at the nearby health center, I have hope. Looking out the kitchen window at a sleeping road as she winds her way through hills and valleys, farmland dotted with houses and road signs, I feel at peace with the world. It is a 5 a.m. world, where anything is possible. A world where neighbors help neighbors. A world that raises each other’s children, cuts each other’s grass, has the spare house key just in case. It’s a world that lives and breathes the words dignity, values, and morals.
Building a Path
I’m not naïve, mind you. I realize that this is my 5 o’clock world. In reality, when the world around me begins to stir, I know that it will struggle to breathe for anything more than its own need. I feel that I need to do something about that. There is a need to do something more, to be a part of something much bigger than my 5’ frame. I want to be the spark that lights the fire. I know that there are many others who want to do the same. But where do we start?
I am reminded of my childhood. The old man who lived next door loved to play horseshoes. He invited me to play horseshoes with him. I enjoyed those days, learning how to throw the heavy metal, a little less wildly each time, to land a little closer to the post at the opposite end. I loved the old man’s laugh, and the way he cheered me on no matter where the shoe landed. One day, however, he and my mother had words. It was 1968 and there were civil rights marches around the country; one of them would be going past my street. The old man loudly bragged to my mom that if any of those n-words “comes down here, I’ll grab one of your bricks from your flower bed and hit him upside the head with it.” Without missing a beat, my mother responded, “Old man, if you lay one hand on my bricks, I’ll lay a hand on you.” That was my first introduction to racism. How could we even remain as neighbors to someone like that?
That’s when my parents explained to me, through their words and their actions, that we are not to judge, and we must all try to get along. My mother stated that she should not have responded the way she did because he was her elder. They told me that he had been raised that way, and the only way we might change him was to set a good example. So we did. We did not agree with this man, but we could still be neighborly. I still played horseshoes with him. As I grew into my teens, I shoveled snow from his walkway and picked up extra milk and bread at the store. He and his wife were appreciative, and often asked about my schooling. It’s all about finding the good in people, and hoping that the good in you will rub off on them. Instead of using our bricks as stones, my parents taught me to use them to build a pathway -- to understanding-- based on dignity, values, and morals.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
Beyond the Kitchen Window
Ever since then, I’ve wanted to continue to build a path. I believe it is important to be neighborly not just locally, but regionally, nationally, and internationally as well. Do we have to agree with one another to treat each other in a dignified manner? Just because we don't see eye to eye, is that any reason why we should not value the life that each has been given? There are so many opportunities to learn from each other while we take care of one another. Opportunities abound. I would love to save the world a thousand people at a time, but I have neither resources nor energy to do that. However, if everyone took one day, one hour, or even one moment out of the day to reach out to those who need it, imagine what a difference would be made around the world. Now is your chance. “Make-a-Difference Day” is this weekend, and it is a prime time to start getting involved in the world beyond the kitchen window.
*Purchase toiletry items and drop them off at a local nursing home, women’s center, or homeless shelter.
*Have a little extra money this month? Visit a local church and ask them to use your donation to provide a gas, grocery, or daycare voucher to someone who needs it.
*Make a play date at your local animal shelter. Cages need to cleaned, dogs need to be walked and bathed, water and food need to be changed, and animals need to be cuddled. We all need someone to love us, and you’ll find that you get more than your share when you help out at an animal shelter.
*Offer your time at a nursing home. Many of the residents don’t have regular visitors; those who do still get lonely. What on earth can you do to make a difference? Visit a resident and offer to write a letter or card to someone as they dictate it, read the newspaper to them or a book of their choice, sit with them and listen to the many stories they have to share, ask about any photographs they have in the room. Share good news about your own life. Relish in the knowledge they have to impart.
*Be a mentor. Contact Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or some other mentoring program. Not only will you be able to have a profound impact on a child/teen, but you will reap the rewards as well. I could not imagine a life without the young man that my husband and I have mentored since he was six. He is fifteen now, and is very much a member of our family.
*Coordinate a “Neighborhood Senior Watch.” If you have a mixture of elderly and young families in your neighborhood, set up a schedule so that each elderly home as a younger family to look in on them. This could run the course of a year or be considered permanent. The “watchers” could check in daily, especially during extreme weather conditions, to make certain that the senior/s have heat/air, haven’t fallen, and have food and medication. In certain circumstances you may want to take them their mail and newspaper so they don’t have to get out, or you might offer to drive them to the store, a doctor’s appointment, or a movie. *Note: If the person has had health problems, check with their closest relative or Power of Attorney (POA), to find out what special things you need to be watchful of, or any special dietary or medical needs so that any outings are successful.
*Coordinate a neighborhood “home adoption.” Find out what skills/trade each helper has, and put them on a specific project. Perhaps if they own a trade business, they will donate the materials. Adults can help to restore the property (i.e. electrical, plumbing, heating/air conditioning, roofing, landscaping); older teens can revitalize a fence, shudders, doorways and windows with a bit of donated paint and brushes, and help out on landscaping; younger kids can sweep, pull weeds, and clean windows.
*Collect plastic caps from neighbors, family, and friends and deliver them to a local school that collects them. These can be melted down and made into a playground bench.
*Get involved with a local river or lake clean-up. Your efforts will not only help to beautify the water and shoreline for all to enjoy, a safer and healthier environment will be created for the fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife that live there.
*Help to encourage those who have made some bad decisions in their past, while at the same time provide healthy food for those in need. Here’s an example: behind my town’s corrections center is a large plot of land that wasn’t being utilized. With the gumption of a corrections supervisor, donations from local greenhouses and hardware/farm supply stores, and a bit of trial and error, inmates have successfully grown beets, several types of squash, peppers, green beans, corn, tomatoes, green onions, and potatoes. According to The Dubois County Herald, in the last two years the program has donated “’thousands of pounds’ of vegetables and fruits to the local community meal program.” It's a win-win situation!
Big Brothers/Big Sisters
- Volunteer to start something-Big Brothers Big Sisters
What if every child fulfilled his or her potential? Think how amazing that would be. Now, you can start more Littles on the path to big things. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the nation's premiere donor and volunteer-supported youth mentoring organizati
Here are some ideas for helping across your state:
*Coordinate a coat and glove drive to support your state’s largest homeless population.
*Collect new and gently-read books to deliver to the most poverty-stricken areas of your state for distribution to school libraries, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and low-income families.
*Volunteer for your state’s American Red Cross office, or another non-profit. You can perform clerical work, help out at blood drives, or with special events just to name a few. Check out redcross.org or contact 1-800-733-2767 to find the many ways you can help.
Want to help nationally?
*Coordinate a “Disaster Relief Stockpile.” Why wait until something happens? Start collecting blankets, diapers, pet food, and non-perishable food. Cultivate businesses to donate the use of storage space and a semi to transport when the time comes.
*Adopt a Family: Contact a church or hospital in an area hit by a disaster in the last year and obtain the name of a family still struggling to recover. Find out what is needed and organize a drive for the adopted family. With the holidays just around the corner, you may even want to include a nice Thanksgiving and/or Christmas for them.
*Support the USO. Even if you don’t have a USO nearby, you can host a barbeque or some other event to help the USO support our troops. Perhaps you'd rather greet returning service men and women. There are many opportunities to support those who helped to keep this country free. Just contact the USO at email@example.com or by calling 1-888-484-3876.
- Host an Exchange Student with EF Foundation for Foreign Study
Open your home to a foreign exchange student and open your world. Host a high school exchange student with EF Foundation for Foreign Study today!
- Sponsor a Child - Christian Foundation for Children and Aging
Sponsor a child through CFCA's Hope for a Family sponsorship program. Our highly personalized child sponsorship program gives children hope for a better future and provides their families with the tools they need to create a path out of poverty.
Let's Go Global
We are all in this world together. Why not help someone across the globe?
*Collect donated, old textbooks to send to poverty-stricken schools that want to learn English. Collect donations from businesses to cover the shipping.
*If you can afford it, sponsor a child’s education in another country, like Bangladesh or the Philippines. A good education is the root of a successful life, and many children in other countries don’t have the money to go to school.
*Host an exchange student for a school year. You provide the room and board, the parental guidance, and the heart of a parent. They provide a connection to another part of the world, the taste of a new culture, and, in many cases, a lifelong relationship. Believe it or not, by serving in this capacity, you could help how the rest of the world sees Americans. Now that's powerful!
How to Make a Difference
Don't stop with these ideas! Come up with what you are capable of and feel comfortable doing. The key is to do something!