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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

6 Ways to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Work For You

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The new year has begun and goal setting and resolutions are upon us.  The new year offers a time of reflection and retrospection.  The new year offers a fresh start and a great opportunity to create a better life for us and those around us.

According to Forbes, for 2021, the “most popular New Year’s resolutions are about self-improvement (living healthier 23% of people, getting happy 21%, losing weight 20%, exercising 7%, stopping smoking 5%, reducing drinking 2%). In addition, people resolve to meet career or job goals (16%) and improve their relationships (11%).”  Of those working out falls into three of those top goals (a whopping 50%). 

According to FSU News, “on average, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February…it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to become automatic.”

So how do we combat this huge obstacle and make our resolution to be healthier happier people come true? Here are six steps I have taken to help me in the past and present.

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Be Realistic:  Do not set yourself up to fail.  Be realistic in goal setting.  If you have never worked out, it is highly unlikely you will work out six days a week an hour and a half. You likely won’t lose 50 lbs in three months.  Set a goal that works for you.  A good goal will be SMART. The more specific and measurable a goal, the better.  Want more?  Check out this blog on 10 goal setting steps to success

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time-Bound.
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Set a routine: The hardest part of a resolution (or any goal), is to incorporate it into your already hectic routine.  By creating a routine where your goal is a part of it, you are more likely to be able to attain your goals.  According to Northwestern Medicine, routines are essential to a healthy lifestyle.  Routines will help reduce stress, increase sleep, give better health, and set a good example for your children.

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Get accountability/work out partner: Progress is never made alone.  We need each other.  Find a friend or partner in your goal.  This will help increase serotonin when you work out or work on your goal because you will be doing it with a friend.  This friend can also help keep you accountable on days you don’t want to work toward your goals (and we all know there will be those days).  Exercising with a friend is just more fun and it helps build your friendship. By including an accountability partner, you are more likely to stick to your goals and succeed.  You typically work harder when someone else is around (because they are watching you) and it brings out the competitive side and spurs you on.  Working out with a friend can be cheaper by splitting the cost of the trainer/equipment.  Your accountability partner may have new ideas to bring.  And, it just safer – you want a spotter on those weights or someone to run those trails.

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Track Progress: I have said it before and will say it again.  Without a way to track the progress, you can get very discouraged – especially with weight loss.  Muscle weighs more than fat, so that scale may climb before it falls.  Have a way to track your progress toward your goal.  I like this habit tracker for my goals.  But, for weight loss goals, I find tracking with a picture to be more satisfying.  It shows the way the body changes over time rather than a scale that just reflects gravity.

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Eat Healthily: We all know we should eat healthily, but we typically do not. The words themselves just make it sound like salads and bland food or processed protein shakes for the rest of our lives.  BORING! But, healthy food is the opposite! Eating healthy just means incorporating colors into your diet.  Get away from processed foods and enjoy the great taste of vegetables and fruits.  Don’t snack on chips, snack on berries.  Don’t eat bread three meals a day.  Replace at least two of those servings with veggies.  Vegetables are so versatile you can have a different dish with a different flavor every night of the week for months. Limit the sugar and salt.  Enjoy the garden God gave us. You will be surprised how good it all is!

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Drink Water: This is probably the most simple and overlooked tip in getting a healthy habit started.  Water is so beneficial to our bodies.  It helps our bodies process every system.  It helps our skin stay brighter.  It helps us look younger.  So, instead of that second cup of coffee, drink a glass of water.  Have water before a meal, and you will eat less.  Bored with water, add some flavor.  I like to flavor mine with lemon, kiwi, mango, and other fruit flavors.  Water doesn’t have to be boring.

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Stretch: This one is often forgotten when people talk about working out.  It is also often forgotten in most classes at the gym.  If there is no stretch in the workout class, do one on your own.  Research shows time and again, stretching is good for you. The Mayo Clinic provided stretching:

  • Improve your performance in physical activities
  • Decrease your risk of injuries
  • Help your joints move through their full range of motion
  • Enable your muscles to work most effectively

Research also shows stretching can relieve post-exercise aches and pains (we all hate day two of a workout routine), improve posture, and manage stress better.  So take the time to stretch daily.  This is a great way to help relax at the end of the day as well.

New Year’s Resolutions are great ways to get us towards goals.  But they are only as good as the effort put in.  If your goal is like half of America to live a healthier happier lifestyle, then try these six steps to ensure success.

New Year New You: 5 Tips for a Happy Healthy New Year

Congratulations!  You survived 2020!  Whew!  If you are anything like me, it felt touch and go there for a while. 

Welcome, 2021!  After last year, it will be really easy for you to be better. 

But, how can we be better? Better physically? Emotionally? Mentally?

Five days into 2021 and the world was shocked by riots in Washington, DC.  I had a few friends reach out in utter dismal disappointment.  Five days.  That was all it took for them to feel like they had no hope in the world. 

I introduced this group of friends, whom I love dearly and have known most of my life, to one of the five practices I will share with you today.  That group text went from disappointment and fear to light and edifying.

How can we be the best we can be in 2021?  Here are five simple steps I use that may help you.

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  1. Live Loved: Don’t be a slave to emotions.  The last year was a roller coaster of emotions – fear, anger, depression, hope, joy, defiance.  We have all felt them in such intensity for so long, it is easy to forget the most powerful emotion, word, magic, verb in the world: Love. As Lysa Terkerst so aptly put it, “No one can soar to the place of living loved when it’s a performance-based endeavor.” It is time to stop treating ourselves like we are reacting vessels.  It is time to start acting.  Time to reclaim the gift you are to the world.  You are uniquely and wonderfully made for a purpose for a time such as this.  Claim this.  Love yourself.  Love all the uniqueness that is you.  Love the quirks.  Love the weaknesses.  Love the strengths. 
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2. Love your body: It took one hour for my inbox to be flooded with weight loss and exercise tips and workout boot camp invitations from when the ball dropped on December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2021.  First, let me remind you: the weight loss industry is designed for you to FAIL and they KNOW it.  So, ignore that. You know what you should eat and how you should work out. The healthiest thing you can do is start where you are and love your body. I love the above picture – she is so graceful and confident! Find one thing on your body you like and look yourself in the mirror daily and complement it. Eventually, you will come to love it and be able to find more things to love about yourself. When you love yourself, much like when you love a child, you want what is best for yourself.  See yourself as the healthier version of you now and you will find you start choosing the healthier food at the store, ignoring the food table at gatherings, and investing in the people you are with more. 

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3. Speak Life: This past year has brought out the worst in people.  Our language has turned against each other – our politics, our friends, even our families have been divided over how we view the state of things.  Division is high and our language isn’t helping.  Instead of listening to the views of others, we ignore them.  Unfollow.  Unfriend.  We spread hate and insult those who disagree.  We speak negativity and hate.  But, our words have power.  2021 is a time to take our tongues back.  It is time to speak love and life.  We are uniquely made, so we have different opinions.  That does not make one stupid and the other brilliant.  It means our lives are different and the realities of what is happening in them are different.  Stop. Listen. Then speak love.  When we change our language to love and light we open doors to unity, growth, wonderful friendships, and grand love.

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4. Be grateful: If follow me, you know how much I believe in the power of gratitude.  There is a change that takes place in the heart when we recognize things we are thankful for.  This year, thank you body.  Your body does amazing things all day with your consciously thinking about it.  Blood cells move to make sure organs work. White blood cells come to fight off bacteria and viruses.  You have completely new skin every 27 days! Thank your body.  Your family knows the worst of you (you know what I am talking about) and loves you anyway.  Thank your family. Your teachers, therapists, and doctors are working diligently (some more than 60 hour weeks) to help ensure a healthy and smart community.  Thank them.  I practice a discipline of gratitude daily.  I attempt to write out 3-5 things daily I am grateful for.  This is particularly helpful on those days I am tired or short-tempered.  It recenters me.

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5. Take Chances:  The new year is a great time to evaluate where we are and decide where we are going.  What will your path be this year?  One of anger and hate? One of love and acceptance?  One of accomplishment? One of excuses?  Be honest with yourself when you make this evaluation, and start moving those dreams to goals. Dreams are passing thoughts – goals are paths to reality.  Goal setting can be easy and fun. So dream big and start making the reality you have always wanted. If you are new to goal setting, pick a small goal.  Maybe you want to lose weight and have yo-yo dieted for years.  Instead of a diet, set a goal to drink more water daily, or eat less sugar.  This is quantifiable and you can it in baby steps. The single change will have a big change.  Maybe your goal is to write a book – but you are not sure you’re an author.  Set a goal to write 10-15 minutes two days a week.  This is measurable and will get you in the practice to write the book later.  Whatever the goal, if you survived 2020, you are set up with more grit, strength, and perseverance than you ever had in the past.  Claim that and use it as fuel to take chances of making your dreams a reality.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am stronger than I ever knew and able to do great good.  I want you to know: you are loved.  You are smart.  You are important. You can do all you set your mind to. You are uniquely made for such a time as this. 

I would love to hear your goals and thoughts on how you are going to make 2021 the best year yet. Drop a comment.  If you like what you read, please share.  Together, we can make this world a positive one.