Making a Difference: The Holidays

When the holidays arrive, whether or not you celebrate a religious holiday, the truth of the matter is a lot of organizations kick into high gear when it comes to donations, volunteering, and gathering recognition for their causes. As a result, it’s a great time of year to really participate and make a difference.

From your local boy scout troops to national organizations, it seems everyone has a food drive. It isn’t difficult to find a way to donate nonperishable food items to those in need. But you can also try contacting some of the organizations taking donations and seeing if they need help in sorting and distributing donations. The more successful a drive, the more help they’ll need — and they’ll be grateful for volunteers.

Along the same lines are gift drives — from boxes accepting unwrapped toys to giving trees to working with your local social services department to “adopt” a family for the holidays. Depending on how involved you want to be, you can donate to your heart’s content, or, again, contact the organizations sponsoring the donations and help with sorting and distributing.

If you’re great at selling, you can turn your talents toward something like being a bell ringer for Salvation Army to solicit donations. Or you can help an organization selling poinsettias, wreaths, or other holiday goods to bring in funds.

If you have children in school, you can try contacting the Parent-Teacher organization to help with bake sales, gift fairs, and other events this time of year. Or you can contact the leaders of any organizations your child may belong to and help with fundraisers or events to raise money.

As the weather gets colder, many places — such as shelters and soup kitchens — see an influx of people seeking assistance. You can try volunteering or donating to such organizations to help with this increase. You can also turn to your neighbors to see if anyone needs help with last-minute raking, snow shoveling, or errands.

Keep your eyes open for places looking for donations or volunteers — or any other kind of help. The opportunities are endless!

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Making a Difference: Help Thy Neighbor

When people think about making a difference, they often think of the bigger groups and organizations that they can work with, volunteer for, or make donations to. Oftentimes, however, you can make an even bigger difference just by looking next door.

Someone doesn’t need to have gone through a horrible experience, natural disaster, or life-changing event to need a little assistance. And reaching out to those near you can have a more direct impact for both of you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Elderly or disabled neighbors may need help with simple chores or projects: shoveling or raking, landscaping, even taking out the garbage. You can also help them with running errands, cooking meals, or cleaning house.
  • Parents of young children may need help with babysitting so they can get things done in or outside of the home, or just to spend time as a couple.
  • New parents, or anyone dealing with a family crisis, can benefit from home-cooked meals or help cleaning house as they struggle with new demands.
  • Children of busy parents may benefit from a mentor to help with homework or leaning life skills. You can even take it one step further and lead a scout troop or sports team.

Keep in mind, also, that someone doesn’t have to be in need to benefit from a good deed. No matter their lot in life, most people would appreciate a helping hand. Imagine waking up one snowy morning to find your driveway had been shoveled and car had been brushed off. Imagine opening your door to find a homemade treat resting on your doorstep with a note from your neighbor. Perhaps something as simple as someone taking your garbage cans off the curb.

Anything that eases the burden of those around you and brings a smile to their faces makes a difference. What can you do to help your neighbors?

Making a Difference: All About the Kids

Groups and organizations fall into all kinds of categories — and many of them focus on helping children. If you want to make a difference in a child’s life, there are plenty of opportunities available.

For a permanent — or at least long-term — impact, you can look into adoption or foster parenting, both of which we’ve discussed previously. Another option is being a big brother or big sister. That means forming a relationship with a child in need of positive influences. To learn more about the Big Brother / Big Sister program, visit their website.

Short-term impacts can take on many forms: volunteering, donating, mentoring, coaching, and more. For volunteer opportunities, reach out to organizations in your community such as hospitals, schools, and libraries. You can read to kids; help them with their school work; deliver gifts, foods, etc. to sick kids; become a teacher’s aide; help organize programs, events, and fundraisers; babysit; and much more.

Mentoring and coaching take this one step farther. In addition to helping the children, you’re teaching them valuable skills that have a lasting effect, such as teamwork, self confidence, leadership, and more.

One important thing to remember when working with children is that these are just kids — meaning they’re still vulnerable and impressionable. Your actions can have a greater effect than they would with adults, simply because of this. Children will look to you for guidance and knowledge, and how you handle that can determine how those children view you, other adults, and the world.

Working with children requires patience and understanding, especially if you’re working with kids who have had to deal with traumatic events, such as illness, abuse, poverty, and homelessness. These events can have created emotional and physical scarring that can affect a child’s personality and actions. But while these scars can make it difficult to get through to a child, your guidance can have a much greater impact because of them.

If you want to help children, but lack the time or understanding to volunteer or mentor, you can also consider donating. The organizations that help kids need money to continue, and they often rely on donations to fund some or all of their projects. Find an organization whose mission you can support and give as freely as you can.

Making a Difference: Foster Parenting

Not everyone is cut out to be a parent. And even among those who are, many will go through a difficult time that makes them incapable of caring for their children. As such, there are a lot of kids out there in need of loving homes. Not all will be a permanent need — some will be temporary. If you think you’d like to open your heart and home to one or more of these children, you may want to look into foster parenting.

Requirements to qualify to be a foster parent vary from state to state. Contact your local Department of Children and Families to get more information. You’ll need to apply to be considered and go through a screening process to verify that you’re a responsible adult capable of caring for a child. If you would like to adopt a child through the foster care program, notify the department so they can pair you with children who are more likely to require adoption rather than temporary care.

Some locations offer a monetary stipend to help care for the children you’re responsible for, but don’t let that be the deciding factor. Though not permanent, foster parenting is very demanding and is not a task to be undertaken lightly. The children going through the system often have emotional scarring and will need patience and understanding as well as love. Be sure you’re capable of providing this before taking that step. Also, it can be emotionally trying to have to give the children back at the end of their designated time — especially if you question the parents’ ability to care for their children. It’s one more thing to consider before deciding to apply.

Foster can be very rewarding, and it’s a very personal way to make a difference in the lives of others. Children have unique needs, and having a caring role model and caregiver can truly have an impact. If you think you’re capable of being that caring role model and caregiver, then foster parenting may be for you.

Making a Difference: Donating

Money is necessary for just about everything these days. And not having money can put you at a serious disadvantage — just ask people without homes, without proper medical care, without food or clean water. Or, looking beyond basic needs, ask researchers trying to make breakthroughs in medicine, students without money for college, or organizations trying to bring relief to areas hit by natural disasters.

If you happen to have extra money, and you want to help others with it, there are plenty of people and organizations who would be more than happy to take it off your hands. Donating money can make you feel good, give you a tax break (get a receipt!), and, most importantly, help those in need.

Money isn’t the only thing you can donate, however. Products and services are also welcomed by many groups and organizations. You can donate food to a local food bank, for example, or prizes to be raffled off by fundraising groups. Care packages can be sent to those in the military or students away at college. You can donate used clothing, cell phones, even furniture.

If you’re not able to donate yourself, you can also try fundraising for a cause. Some organizations will sponsor walk-a-thons or other fundraising events where people can sponsor you to raise money for that organization. Or you can raise funds on a smaller scale with a group or organization you already belong to. Bake sales, fairs, can drives, and more can help bring in money that you can then donate to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart. You can also help an organization raise money by organizing fundraising events or gathering donations.

Check out the Online Help post to get some guidance on where to donate or do some research on your own to find an organization that’s meaningful to you. Don’t forget local groups such as schools, churches, scouts, social services departments, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and more.

Making a Difference: Community Organizations

If you’re looking to make a regular, lasting impression on others, you may want to look into community organizations. Participating in a community organization can give you the opportunity to use your time and skills to help others through programs and fundraising. And you can be involved over a long period of time, continuing to help even once a specific program or fundraising event has ended.

Organizations vary widely, from groups focused on a specific need such as medical care (i.e. Doctors Without Borders), to those working to solve a specific problem (i.e. American Cancer Society), to those serving a broad range of needs and problems (i.e. Amnesty International). The most important thing is to partner up with an organization whose mission and goals meet your own. If animals are important to you, for example, working with your local Humane Society may be your best choice.

Below are a few organizations to get you started. Your local community may have many additional choices for you. Ask at your local library or do an internet search to find organizations in your area.

You may also want to look into organizations in your area that serve a specific population, such as people with disabilities, victims of domestic abuse, children, illiterate adults, the homeless, or the unemployed.

Sadly, I recommend researching any organizations you haven’t heard of before looking to participate. You wouldn’t want to get dragged into a scam. But most organizations you’ll encounter are reputable and will greatly appreciate the help you’re willing to give.

Making a Difference: Mentoring

Making a difference can take on many forms, depending on your particular skills and what you’re hoping to achieve. If you want to have a noticeable impact on an individual’s life, mentoring may be the way to go You can form a bond with another person, show that person  you care, and create what can be a lasting relationship.

Thought there are forms of mentoring for adults, such as career mentoring , mentoring is often done for children, particularly at-risk youth. Before you decide to become a mentor, make sure you’re willing to commit to being there for that child. That child will count on you to be there, and giving up after a short time could have lasting effects. If you are willing to commit, however, the effects could be even greater. You can teach that child self esteem and life skills, or simply be a friend. You can show that child the positive side of life, broaden his or her horizons, and show him or her the good in people. For young people growing up in less-than-ideal situations, your influence could chance that child’s life. And helping another person can enrich your life as well.

If you’d prefer to work with adults, particularly those with disabilities, you may want to check out The MENTOR Network’s website for opportunities in your area.

The National Mentoring Partnership website can help you learn more about opportunities and the mentoring process, or you can check out individual organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. Many local schools and religious organizations also offer mentoring opportunities. You can search for availability on the National Mentoring Partnership website or call your local school or religious group.

Making a Difference: Volunteering

A simple way to make a difference in a hands-on kind of way is to volunteer. And the good news is that no matter what’s important to you, you can find an opportunity to help that meets your priorities. Many groups and organizations use volunteers to get things done and meet their goals, from political groups to health organizations.

Volunteer opportunities will vary widely. Some groups may need help organizing an event. Some may need help with phone calls or paperwork. Others may need help with physical work such as construction, landscaping, moving, etc. You can find an opportunity that suits you, no matter what your strengths may be.

You can find a group to help via several methods: online, cold calls, or even ads.

Online you’ll find several sites to help you find opportunities. Below are a few to get you started:

You can also check out an organization’s website to get information about the organization and any volunteer opportunities they may have.

If there’s a specific group or organization you’re interested in helping, your best bet may be to just call the organization. If they have a need for volunteers, they will let you know, or at least direct you to the person to speak with. You can also discuss with the volunteer coordinator exactly what you’re interested in doing. An organization may have different needs that you can choose from.

Some organizations will advertise when they need volunteers, either in general or for a specific event or activity. You can find these ads in local newspapers or in the organization’s newsletter or website. Some may even advertise around the community via signage. Keep your eyes open to find opportunities.

Making a Difference: Online Help

Helping others can be as local or as broad as you’d like it to be. And online resources can help you in your quest, whether it’s locating organizations to help or researching a charity before donating. While many individual organizations or charities have their own websites, you can also find general sites that will guide you in your goals.

Where to Help
If you’re unsure where to start, these sites can help. You can find charities and organizations and get matched with the right ones for you.

Charity Ratings
It’s an unfortunate reality that in this day and age not all organizations are reputable. Some scammers will post as charitable organizations, looking to pilfer your money. Before donating, check out the following sites that will give you the info n the charities you’re looking to invest in:

These sites can also help guide you in finding a charity if you haven’t yet selected one.

Helping the World
In this global community, it’s easier than ever to connect with people around the world. And that means it’s also easier to help people around the world. If this is your goal, the internet is here to help. The sites below are just some of the many that can link you to organizations helping our global neighbors.:

Obviously this is just a beginning when it comes to making a difference online. You’re only limited by your imagination and resources! If you’re interested in a specific type of organization, using your favorite search engine can bring up several excellent choices. Just be sure to check them out before donating.

Making a Difference: Starting Small

It may seem that to truly make a difference you have to dish out tons of money or time. So how can you move forward in this goal if you don’t have the money or time to give? You start small.
Sometimes the smallest action or donation can make a huge difference. Just ask the starving man who received a hot meal, the new mother who was able to get an hour of uninterrupted sleep, or the struggling student who got helping figuring out the difficult problem. None of these scenarios required a lot of time or money, yet the recipient was more than grateful for the help. Here are some ideas to get you started in your own journey to make a difference:
Donate to your local food pantry
Go through your kitchen cabinets for non-perishable items that you aren’t using (make sure you check expiration dates to ensure they’re still good) and donate them to the local food pantry. Or pick up a few staples next time you go grocery shopping and donate those. Some food pantries will also accept donations of health and beauty items. Contact your local social services department if you aren’t sure where the food pantry is or how to donate.
Donate to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other organizations
Clothes, housewares, books and more can be donated to charitable organizations. The items will either be given to those who need them or sold to earn cash that can be used to help others. Clean out your closets and drawers to find items you no longer need or want, and donate these to one such organization. Even larger items, like furniture, can be donated if they’re in good condition.
Donate to a battered women’s shelter
Shelters that help victims of domestic abuse can benefit from donations of health and beauty items and clothing items, especially items that can help women establish new lives and careers (suits for job interviews, etc.) Clean out your closets or pick up a few items on your next shopping excursion.
Shop at Goodwill, the Salvation Army or Savers
Next time you need to pick up an article of clothing, something for your home, or a new book or movie, swing by your local thrift store. You get what you need, and the money you spend goes toward a worthwhile organization — it’s a win-win.
Organize a food or clothing drive
If you’re part of a school or organization, put together a drive to gather food or clothing to donate. Have members bring in items to donate, then bring those items over to the food pantry or thrift store.
Organize a blood drive
Contact your local branch of the Red Cross to see how you can arrange a blood drive at your school or business.
Volunteer in small doses
Even an hour or two can help out your local groups and organizations. Help organize a book drive at your local library. See if you can help at a school’s homework helpline. Call local organizations that mean something to you — shelters, soup kitchens, animal shelters, etc. — and see if they want some help answering phones, filing paperwork, or helping visitors or clients. Any non-profit organization will rely on volunteers to help them function. Call around and see where you can help.
Go visiting
Some groups of people would love to simply have someone sit with them for a bit — especially elderly residents at assisted-living complexes and terminally-ill children in hospitals. Taking some time to spread some cheer can make them smile and perk up their days a bit.
Help your friends and family
Don’t forget to look close to home when it comes to helping others. Do you have an elderly neighbor? Offer to shovel snow, cook a meal or two, or help clean house. Know a parent with small children? Offer to babysit so that parent can go grocery-shopping, run errands, attend appointments, etc. without a child underfoot. Keep an eye and ear open for opportunities that might help those around you: job openings for your cousin looking for employment, doctor recommendations for a parent whose doctor is retiring, potential customers for your brother starting his own business.
Opportunities to help others are all around you. Just keep looking!