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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.