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7 Service Projects to Invest in This New Year

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For those who have followed my site for a while, you know I am really into service.  For several reasons, I have found service to be beneficial to my family and community.  In a post-COVID world where everyone is worried about health and wellness, I would argue that a great way to stay healthy is to serve.  Serving feels good, can bring a sense of belonging, reduces isolation, and brings perspective to our situations.   For those who home school, we have found it a great way to create relationships and socialize.

Many I have spoken with have told me they want to serve, think it is a great way for them to invest in their communities, and even to help their kids with school and life perspectives.  But, they have no idea where to start. 

I recommend what my dad recommends, “Find something worth dying for and go live for it.” But how do you do that?  You have to get out there.  You have to look for it.  What gets your blood boiling when you see injustice?  What makes you want to cry when you see someone downhearted?  What moves you when you hear the story?  These are good questions to ask when you search for a service project.

In my nearly 30 years of service, I have served in every capacity from food closets to first responders and from human trafficking to military organizations.  Here are just 10 ways I have found you and your family can get involved and serve together:

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1. Your local church: If you are stuck, the church, any church, is always in need of volunteers.  For the nearly 2/3’s of Americans who follow some religion, your local church, mosque, or temple is a great way to serve.  Help in the nursery or Sunday School; visit the shut-ins who do not get out bringing a meal or a book and spend time with them;  business-oriented people can lend that service to the non-profit and help with taxes or construction or facilities management.  There is no area a volunteer would not be welcome.

Credit: Monique Burr Foundation for Children

2. Human Trafficking: This is a growing industry with serious consequences.  Take a look at these stunning statistics reported by The High Court:

  • In 2019, 62% of victims in the US were identified as sex trafficking victims. 
  • One in eight endangered runaway youths is likely to be the victim of human trafficking.
  • 30% of trafficking victims are children.

So how can you help?  First, educate yourself in your local area.  If there is presently not a human trafficking task force in your local area, I suggest working with your local police to see what it takes to start one.  If you want to raise awareness and funds for non-profits on the front line, these are great organizations: International Justice Mission, Dressember, and Project Rescue

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3. Food Closets:  According to Save the children, today, an estimated 17 million children are struggling with hunger in America – 6 million more than before the pandemic. And 2.7 million more families are going hungry. One of the best times of my life was when I was interning with a food closet.  Here you see people at their lowest.  But the heart of those serving is so inspiring.  Often, they would give more than required simply because they saw a need.  With many people out of work or underemployed now due to COVID-19, food closets are so important.  If it is a choice between keeping a roof over your head or food in your belly, many choose the roof and children go hungry.  These awesome community organizations help keep families together.  But more than that, many also help to pay utilities and provide classes on budgeting and finances to help people get back on their feet. Going to the closet too much?  Join and support the countless local and nationwide organizations that deliver food to families and senior citizens like Meals on Wheels.

4. Youth Organizations: In a tech-savvy world, many think youths are self-centered and demand recognition instantaneously.  Although there is some truth in that, it does not consider the reason for it.  So many youths do not have a mentor or parent in their lives.  They are desperate for someone to take interest in them letting them know they are valuable.  One in four live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home.  Without a father, kids are four times more likely to be at risk of poverty, seven times more likely to become pregnant as a teen, more likely to face abuse, neglect, abuse drugs and alcohol, have behavior problems, suffer obesity commit a crime and drop out of high school!  So, take a stand and invest in youth.  Volunteer at your local youth group or Boys and Girls Club, volunteer next to them through Feeding America or DoSomething.org.   There are so many options!

5. Build a House: In the US alone, in January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in America (which has only increased since COVID-19). This is often a forgotten or ignored segment of society full of veterans, single parents, often working people who just cannot afford rent, foster kids who have aged out of the system, and many youths.  Instead of ignoring the problem, take the time to help.  We try to have a little extra something with us when we go out to eat to pass on to the man or woman living on the street, or (as my son taught me), when we see them and have no food, we give the sunscreen or bug spray I always keep in the car.  I have a friend who buys socks in bulk and hands them out (especially helpful during the cold months).  It is easy and helpful.  It also changes your perspective on life quickly. If you want something bigger, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or another organization and see the impact you make firsthand.

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6. Veteran Organizations: Veterans signed up to do the dirty work of freedom for you.  Sometimes that means being away from families for lengthy periods of time.  Sometimes that means giving up holidays and birthdays.  Sometimes that means giving a life.  The life of a soldier is difficult and often comes with lifelong battles of healing (be it mind, body, or soul).  Give back to those who sacrificed for you.  Volunteer at the local VFW or DAVE.  Adopt a family whose parent is deployed by bringing a meal and hanging out once a week or month.   Small things go a long way with these families.

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7. Special Needs Organizations: Many who follow this blog are parents/relatives of those with special needs.  If you spend any time with someone with this “label,” you immediately learn how wonderful, intelligent, and genuine they are.  You also learn how ostracized and lonely they are.  These people have so much to give.  Take the time to get to know them and help them.  Animal therapy is great for all needs (physical/mental/emotional).  Or help someone get the service animal and training needed for their daily living activities. A great organization to learn more about what this looks like is Ohana K9. Art therapy is another great way to get involved and help.  For those looking for a little more, check out Love Volunteers which has volunteer opportunities worldwide.  

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8. Bonus – Donate:  If the above does not get you excited, then there is always the donation option.  For those minimizing and cleaning out closets, this is a great time to donate your gently loved clothing, toys, books, and more to an organization that can make their impact increase.  So many organizations will come to pick up your donations to make it that much easier. 

Often our new year resolutions are self-focused.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to self-improve.  But, perhaps we take it a bit further this year and help others?  We can be the change we want to see in the world.  We can be the solution.  I encourage you to take the extra step this year and really enjoy serving our communities and families.   Together we can make this world a better place. 

Featured

10 Practical Steps to Changing a Selfish Attitude to a Serving Attitude

It is that time of year again. The snow is blowing. The lights are glowing. The turkey is on the table. And the toy catalogs have found their way into everyone’s mailbox (like it or not).

It is the time of year when our “perfect angles” remind us just how perfect they have been. When they do extra chores or are extra nice to siblings so they can remind us just why they “deserve” that special toy or one more present over than last year, or (you fill in the blank).

As the years pass, it seems the “need” for stuff grows like ivy – clinging to the hearts and minds of our dear little ones (and if we are honest, sometimes ourselves). So how do we stop this selfish weed from growing in our homes and slowly, silently, destroying everything our dear ones worked toward all year round?

The answer is simple: giving. Here are four easy ways to get back Christmas with a focus on giving. Give of our time. Give of our attention. Give of our resources. Turn the focus of the home from inward to outward.

But, how do we do that in this media-influenced, one-click purchase, instant gratification world? But maybe, giving is not the problem. Maybe it is a matter of the heart. Here are 12 ways we try to shift our focus year-round (but especially around the holidays).

1. Give Attention: There are so many people in our lives that need an extra touch of love. Take time to notice them. Greet them and see how their day is. For those in middle and high school, take an extra two minutes to hang out with that “strange” kid or the kid at the lunch table all by himself. Chances are those are the kids whose stockings will be empty and/or there will be an extra seat missing at the Christmas dinner.

2. Check in on friends and family: We love writing to our extended family using snail mail. There is something nice about receiving a card, letter, or extra something in the mail from a loved one. My son has taken it next level and will include mini-comic books he created or add in recipes he thinks the other person will enjoy. This takes less than 30 minutes and brings delight and joy to all involved.

3. Practice Gratitude: If you have been following me long, you know I really believe in practicing gratitude. This past year I chose to take things even further to make this a daily practice. I have shifted my weekly calendar to reflect not the appointments I have or the deadlines I need to make, but what I am grateful. This shift has been so helpful during deployment and moving to keep me grounded and less stressed out. Here is resource I created to help my son do the same thing (though now he uses his school planner as well). It has been so rewarding to see the year in review (a great idea for New Year’s too).

Credit: Dressember Foundation (https://www.dressember.org/howitworks)

4. Donate to organizations around you: Organizations that help others are often strapped for cash (especially during the holidays when more needs arise). Donating to an organization is a fantastic way to not just spread the wealth, but to open the door to talking with your children about why there are needs, how your kids can avoid being in situations that need the extra help, and why you chose that organization.

This year, I have joined the Dressember Thrive with Dressember Team to help support human trafficking prevention, intervention, and survivor empowerment programs around the world. Having lived in the highest human trafficking areas in America (Los Angeles/Huntington Beach, CA; Greater Washington DC area, pan-handle Florida), and spending all of college and graduate school campaigning for awareness and change in this topic, it has served as a great way for me to help teach my son about stranger-danger, what to look for, and how to report it

5. Practice Forgiveness:  The holidays bring about family. Family brings about questions into your life, you might not normally talk about. Family also tends to say and do things to and around you that you dislike. Although the holidays are a fantastic time for bonding, they can also break relationships. Instead of building walls or hanging on to the continued pain, use this time to forgive and let go. After all, the pain is only hurting you – not the one you are mad at.

6. Shine a positive spotlight on others: No one likes to be at a family gathering where it is the “All About So-and-so Show.”  Nor do they want to be in the spotlight of negative attention. For those parents with special needs, this can be a challenging time of year with routine changes and high sensory impact. Instead of using this time to remark on how displeased, you are with how people act around you or children, or to complain about how they did not think about how to incorporate your needs more, take time to spotlight those around you.

  • Complement the chef if you are not the one cooking. Even if you do not like the food. Afterall, they spent all day cooking.
  • Give a shout out to the host or the in-law watching all the kids so the siblings can catch up.
  • Point out what a great idea someone had for a game or activity (and then let yourself enjoy it).

7. Compromise: I am the middle of seven children. You can imagine how difficult holidays can be when you are coordinating all seven children, their spouses, and the next generation. It may be time to compromise. Instead of doing gifts for everyone, just a family. Or instead of opening presents first thing in the morning on Christmas Day, you wait until December 26 or December 27 (we even opened on New Year’s Eve one year). Being willing can make the holidays sweeter in ways you never thought possible.

8. Watch the road rage: I have lived in the worst traffic places in America (405 and 101 intersection in CA, Baltimore/Annapolis, and the Indi-85 in Florida). It is so easy to get angry quickly in your car when no one will let you in to merge, or they are slow to start moving when a light turns green or, Heaven forbid, they are driving the speed limit. When you find yourself in this situation, remind yourself the extra two seconds will not change if you hit the next light or not and the other driver may be heading to the hospital in a hurry or coming from a funeral. You do not know what is happening in that car.

9. Donate your time: For some, money is tight. That means giving to local organizations seems like a burden. So, for those where money is tight, take time to help a local organization. This is a wonderful way to show kids firsthand what your time can do. Help Habitat for Humanity build a house. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Carole at the hospital or senior citizens center. Small tasks can make an enormous impact. Not sure you want to get completly engulfed in a project? Find an organization you really care about and ask how you can

  • Donate your time.
  • Donate your stuff (and make room for all the new stuff on Christmas).
  • Donate your expertise. It is amazing how many non-profits need editors, writers, tech savvy help.

10. Start small: The best of the holidays, for me, are the small traditions. If you are having trouble getting into the spirt, start small. See the city Christmas Tree lighting. Enjoy the local dance school recital. Have a cup of hot chocolate (and spring for marshmallows) with the kids. It is in the small things that memories are made.

I would love to hear how you enjoy your holiday season with the kiddos. Let me know your favoirte way to make the season all the brighter.

For more on how to enjoy the holidays, check out my Facebook page.