Looking for a last minute stocking stuffer? Here's a thought: Skip the tie, scarf or gift card and use your time or money to help someone help someone.
A few weeks ago, as part of our company's service commitment, I volunteered serving lunch in a small room to a large crowd that gathered by St. Paul's Church near Columbus Circle in New York City.
This is our third year volunteering with the group, Loaves and Fishes, which administers the program, and it strikes me at how many familiar faces I continue to see year after year. It is an interesting collection of people. They are lawyers, accountants, musicians and nurses. All have something interesting to say. Most speak more than one language. I am, of course, referring to the people eating lunch -- not serving it.
The need for programs, like Loaves and Fishes, is critical at this time of year, in this time in our history. Equally important is investing in programs and people who can make sure these lines don't form in the first place.
I got to talking with a long-time volunteer, Frank, who was serving soup while I dished out salads. He asked me if I could recommend any organizations that were doing great work helping people to which he could donate to at the end of the year. I named a few and sent a follow up email with some other suggestions.
How simple it was to help Frank help someone. And I thought what a nice gift.
Nick Kristof's gave the same to his readers this Sunday in his column "The Gift of Hope". If you're looking for some suggestions, it's hard to go wrong with any on his list. Have a friend who is a nurse and don't know what to get her this year? Skip the perfume and show her how much you value what she does everyday by donating money to the Nurse Family Partnership.
If you're looking for more ideas, this morning's New York Times has an article on sites such as Crowdrise, Jumo, Causecast and Network for Good that can help you find ideas that match that special person in your life. Keep in mind that when you use these sites, a portion of your gift may also be used to help these sites run in the first place. Again, helping people help people.
It was just a year ago, that my book, Actions Speak Loudest (ASL), was published. The goal was for us to address in concert those issues that are conspiring to challenge our generational promise of leaving our children a better world than we inherited. To give people ideas on how they could make a difference on issues important to them, in their homes, communities and country.
It was ushered in at a time that coincided with feelings of great hope for change that unfortunately haven't fully materialized for many Americans. To read the papers or watch the news, you would undoubtedly be left with the impression that our actions haven't spoken loudest. Bickering talking heads, filibustering Senators, and voters "sending messages" fill our airwaves and are rewarded by our rapt attention. Conflict and inertia trump compassion and action.
But over the past few weeks, I've been reminded that rhetoric can be replaced by results when people act for others. And that there are many people who are more interested in starting things than stopping progress.
At a book signing last weekend, a woman purchased a copy of ASL for her nephew who has cerebral palsy and had been bullied at school. She told me that she hoped the two chapters on tolerance and disabilities might provide some inspiration and ideas for him and his parents.
And I thought, that is what a gift does. It is an exchange, not just of things, but also of meaning.
As part of my work, I've been honored to come into contact with so many people -- many of them just out of college -- who are giving of themselves, putting their whole heart into helping others. Trying to get them out of the proverbial lines of need and into a better life.
Young men like Adam Braun of Pencils of Promise who is building schools for children in Laos and Brian Bordainik of Teach for America and 9th Ward Field of Dreams who is building a place to play in New Orleans, or young women Meeza Yalew at City Year who is nourishing minds in Washington DC and Ellen Gustafson of the Feed Foundation who is nourishing bodies in Africa. They are among an army of young people who are redefining service in the context of a life's work.
Everyday, their actions are speaking loudest. But are we listening? What are we doing to support the almost 30 percent of recent college graduates who plan to work for non-profit groups or government? How are we recognizing the thousands of young people who are making the commitment to serve through organizations like City Year and Teach for America?
This holiday season give something that inspires someone to act. Encourage them to start something. Help someone help someone.
For our part, in the spirit of thoughtful gifts and inspired by the great ideas of another young social entrepreneur, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes, we will be trying something new.
From now until the National Day of Service on Martin Luther King Day, for every copy of Actions Speak Loudest purchased, we will say thank you by giving a copy to a person who is serving others.
The way it works is simple. If you buy a copy of the book, just contact us through www.actionsspeakloudest.com/contact.html and let us know. We'll then send a copy in your name to one of our partner organizations, Teach for America, City Year and Harlem Children's Zone Peacemakers - who will put it in the hand of someone who deserves a thanks. And we'll do this as long as our supplies last.
When you buy one, you inspire one. And hopefully you will be helping someone help someone. And they in turn may do the same. And as always, our portion of the book's sales will continue to be donated to the organizations featured in its pages.
Yesterday, my wife and I sat down with our three year old daughter to go through her toys, with the goal of giving half of them away to other boys and girls who might like them for Christmas. We weren't sure how well this would go over, as sharing hasn't always been her strong suit (at least when it comes to her one year old sister). But we watched in near astonishment, as she was easily able to part with so many of her toys. She kissed several teddy bears and dolls goodbye and wished them well in their new home. How easy it can be to help someone help someone.
Whether you send an email to someone looking for ideas, give a child the gift of giving, recognize what you value in a friend by giving in their name or supporting a social entrepreneur directly, do something different this year. As the last few days of the shopping season wind down, save yourself from the craziness of last minute shopping and save someone else instead. Skip the mall. The world doesn't need another nice tie. It needs more of us helping people help people.
Follow Bob McKinnon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@GALEWiLLcenter