I attended grade school and high school at schools with missions to get kids involved in service. A couple of my favorite memories were while volunteering at various organizations. Do not get me wrong, not all of the stand-out memories from those years were from volunteer work (I mean, I was FAR from a Saint!) but a lot of them were. In 8th grade, a group of students volunteered together at a Women’s and Children’s Shelter downtown. I remember dividing into two groups; one group played at the outdoor play area with the “older” kids while the other group held the babies in the nursery. I started out with the older kids and had a blast playing with them and seeing their faces light up while playing games. After a couple hours, I went to the nursery to spend time with the babies. I had a baby sister so I was very comfortable with them. But as I thought of my little sister at home and how loved on she was by my parents, my brother and I, and all the people that love her, I couldn’t help but think “Where is this baby’s Mom? Dad? Was her sibling one of the kids I played with earlier outside? Does she know how loved she is? When we aren’t here, are there other people loving on her and making her feel as special as she is when her Mom can’t be with her?” I understood that this baby’s circumstances were very different than my own, but at 14, I couldn’t grasp all the ways. But, it was enough for me to want to know more, to help more, to impact more. Fast forward to high school and my most memorable volunteering experience was at Sharing and Caring Hands, an organization who serves meals to homeless. Anyone can stop in for a warm place to enjoy a hot meal. There were a number of different personalities that came through line. There were some too exhausted to acknowledge us, some who were incredibly outwardly grateful, thanking each person who put an item on their tray and sometimes even offered a hug of thanks. Then there were some the people who seemed ashamed to take the handout, but offered a quick smile before rushing away. But, the person that stuck out the most was a little girl named Tabitha who seemed about 8 years old. As soon as she asked if she could help me pass out the drinks (of course I said yes!) I knew we were buddies. She followed me around and after everyone seemed to have their fill of beverages, we sat at one of the open tables and colored together. The following week, I again signed up at SACH, eagerly hoping to see her again but she was nowhere to be found, nor did I ever see her at future trips there. Still today, every once in a while Tabitha floats into my head and I wonder where she is and if she is doing okay. I’m pretty sure she made a bigger impact on me than I on her, but I hope I had at least made that day a little brighter for her. After college, I wanted to start back up volunteering so I got involved with Big Brothers & Sisters of America. It was an amazing experience and I continued to be pen pals with my ‘little sister’ for years. These are just a few ways I have volunteered, but there are SO many more organizations out there. While this list is just scratching the surface, here are some easy ways to better our world this winter. You can also check out easy volunteering opportunities for children HERE.
With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, here are a few easy ways you can make a difference this winter:
- Bell Ringing – Salvation Army (http://salvationarmynorth.org/volunteer/bellringing/) –
Grab a friend and sign up online for a timeslot that works for you. Don’t forget your favorite cup of coffee and even a portable speaker to play Christmas music! This is also a great way to introduce youngsters to serving others, so feel free to make it a family affair.
- Feed My Starving Children (http://www.fmsc.org/) – With locations in Arizona, Illinois & Minnesota, FMSC is an awesome place to volunteer with a fun and uplifting atmosphere. You can volunteer solo or sign up as a large group. This is a great option for large extended families to volunteer together or for companies to get employees out of the office for bonding and good deeds!
- Check a local Church –
Many Churches work with various organizations and are constantly looking for volunteers.
- Look within your own backyard…literally!
Have a neighbor who is elderly, dealing with a loss or illness, adjusting to a life-changing event (even a happy one, like a new baby –or two)? Offer to mow their lawn, shovel their driveway, or water their plants. Better yet, just surprise them and do it!
- Share your talents.
Enjoy crocheting? Make a blanket for a shelter. Love wreath making or holiday crafts? Drop some off at a Senior Living center to add some holiday pizzazz to the residents’ living spaces.