As we approach the peak of the holiday season, and are overcome by holiday spirit, gift shopping, Christmas music, sparkling lights, decorations and freshly baked desserts, I begin to ask myself several questions: Am I doing enough to help others? Am I doing everything I can to assist people less fortunate than myself? Is there more I could be doing to make an impact on my community and my world?
Yes, these are somewhat loaded questions, but what if each one of us made it our mission to engage our selves and others in acts of service this holiday season? Can you imagine the amount of positive change our world would experience? We are all citizens of this impacted world, why not join hands and put in a little effort to make an impact on our world's well being?!
But what can we do? Well, easy for you, I have put together ten simple tasks you can consider doing this holiday season to serve your community and your world.
Everybody loves food; however, not everyone has the luxury of visiting their local grocery store and buying all of their holiday favorites. This holiday season, give the gift of food to those who are homeless, or struggling to make ends meet. Volunteer at your local food bank, soup kitchen, community center, church, or synagogue and help prepare hot meals for those that need it. If you're feeling inspired, you can organize a food drive yourself, and put together food baskets that you can distribute to specific families you know who may be struggling, or to homeless shelters that could use the extra help.
2. Presents! When you think of the holidays, beautifully wrapped boxes are what come to mind for many. For me, the best part about giving presents is the joy I feel when my gift to someone is unwrapped. Unfortunately, many children across the world do not have the blessing of opening presents this season. During your holiday shopping spree, pick up some extra toys, wrap them, and donate them to your local toy drive, orphanage, or children's hospital. Include a heartfelt card that personalizes the gift, one that the recipient will never forget, and can return to as a pick-me-up when they are feeling down.
3. Sharing your holiday spirit. Do you ever see a person who is homeless, and pretend that he/she is not even there? You simply glance at him/her for a second, look away, and pretend that they do not exist. How do you think that makes them feel to think that their identity is no longer there? This holiday season, I encourage you to change your perspective on how you view people living on the street. Give them a genuine smile, simple acknowledgement, or a warm "Merry Christmas" or "Happy New Year." Show them that their presence is just as valuable as a businessman walking down the street with a briefcase, or a newborn baby being pushed around in a stroller. We are all human beings. Don't let yourself forget that.
4. Clothes! As the weather gets colder, and we start pulling out our layers, think about those who only have one ripped t-shirt and one pair of pants with holes throughout both legs. Go through your closet and pull out all the clothes you no longer wear. Donate these clothes to orphanages, homeless shelters or the local Salvation Army. You have no idea how much your extra clothes mean to people who wear the same outfit day in and day out.
5. Live, Laugh, Love! We all know how important these three things are to ignite happiness and joy into our own lives. Many children around the world do not have opportunities to live, laugh, and love, and feel like their presence is worthless in the world. This holiday season, give the gift of heartfelt attention to children in orphanages, foster homes, and children's hospitals. Show them undivided attention by reading to them, engaging in a fun art project or playing games. Those few hours of love and laughter are enough to keep them going through many hard times they may face. They will never forget those moments of love they receive from you.
6. Consistency! You know how loving, giving and warm you are during the holiday season towards your family and friends? Why can't we make these acts of service more consistent in our every day lives, even after the holidays are over? Try writing a card to express your love for a person in your life on a random Tuesday. Or offer to get something done for a family member before the nagging sets in. Or my personal favorite: give someone a hug at a random point in the day to show them how much you care for them. These small acts of kindness are as simple as tying a shoe, yet as meaningful as feeding an entire village.
7. Care for those who care for you! Everyone in this world has people caring for them in one way or another. Whether it is a parent, a family member, a doctor, an employee, a teacher or a housekeeper, there are people that specifically care for you to ensure that your life is just a little better. Return the favor to them. Do something nice for them to show your appreciation for what they do for you. Similarly to number 6, don't let this stop after the holidays. Make sure you are always showing gratitude to people that care for you and serve you.
8. Think global! Some of us are so busy with our daily routine that we don't consider what is going on outside of our own city, let alone country. I can assure you that people in other countries are in dire need of help. In East Africa, I witnessed first hand mass struggles of extreme poverty and hunger. This holiday season, take a second to stop your routine and consider people worldwide that are really struggling. Try and put yourself in their shoes. What would you do if you couldn't put food on your table every day? Luckily, there are several programs like the World Food Programme, Charity Water, Habitat for Humanity, Jewish World Watch and UNICEF that make it their mission to repair our third world countries. Find it in your heart to volunteer your time or your money to some of these organizations that work directly in these places.
9. Do your research! There are innumerable non-profits out there, and even more community service projects taking place on a daily basis. Do your research, and look up projects that interest you. Thankfully, there is this magical search engine, http://www.volunteermatch.org, which specializes in volunteer projects in your area. Choose any topic or cause that interests you. Maybe it is homelessness, animals, the environment, children, seniors, art, hunger or poverty? There is something for everyone. Find the type of service you love doing, and get others involved with you!
10. Be selfish! Yes, this statement slightly contradicts the last nine topics, but do not let it undermine them. How can you best serve other people before best serving yourself? Often times, we get so wrapped up in helping other people -- our friends, our family, our children, our employees, and our communities -- that we lose sight of who we are. What if we could find the perfect balance between serving ourselves and serving others? What could you do that can get you fully committed to yourself? We can't ever forget about how we are treating ourselves. The best way to fill other people's cups is to first fill our own. Start serving yourself by acknowledging your hard work, and your many positive qualities. Always allow yourself to relax, kick your feet up, and enjoy the moment.
These 10 ideas are ones inspired by a very special group of teenagers. As the Coordinator of Youth Transformational Leadership for Insight Seminars (the continuing education division of Insight University), I have found that the ones holding the vision for tomorrow is our youth. In leading this organization's service projects, and watching teenagers directly engage in community service, I have been incredibly inspired by their passion for serving. These are teens that genuinely want to make a difference, not because they have to, but because they choose to! If they can do it, then what are we all sitting around for?
Service projects can sometimes be intimidating, and scary, but if you conjure up just the right amount of courage and go for it, you will not regret it!