Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Your Kids Are (Probably) Not Too Young to Volunteer!

preschool  kidsSure, if still toddling or in diapers, maybe they are more of a ride-along while you get engaged in service, however, if your kids are the age where following directions is a thing, then volunteering can be a thing, too!

While many organizations don’t start making formal use of energetic volunteers until age 8 or older, you can always search for “family-friendly” opportunities to get involved together. Here are a few places to start an online search for just the right project for you and yours.

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  • All for Good (allforgood.org) is a digital hub for volunteerism and community engagement. Find youth-engaging projects in your area by zip code.

 

  • Do Something (dosomething.org) will get kids involved with other kids making a difference—millions of young people in a global movement for good.

 

  • Generation On (generationon.org) provides programs, tools, and resources to engage kids and teens in service and volunteering.

 

  • One More Generation (onemoregeneration.org) was created by kids for kids to get kids involved in conservation and endangered species projects.

 

  • Volunteer.gov (www.volunteer.gov) is the federal program for volunteers to find ways to work on cultural and environmental resource projects. Use the “Family” filter in your search.

 

  • VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org) is the largest network in the non-profit world. Search for volunteer opportunities by zip code, kind of work, and add the filter “Kids” or “Teens” to get everyone involved.

Royal Watching for Inspiration

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I’m always fascinated by the frenzy of following every movement or breath of famous folks.

Royal Watching has become quite the national and international pastime, and ramps up to a frenzy when the family members of Britain’s Queen get married or bring a new baby into the world.

We tune in or pick up the grocery store checkout line mags to assess (criticize?) dresses and clothes and baby pictures and pronouncements. Are we comparing ourselves? Fantasizing what it must be like to be royalty? Waiting for some weird schadenfreude moment when someone trips and falls?

I am Royal Watching right now for another reason—I’m looking for inspiration. Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are in South Africa with their young son, Archie, touring and meeting folks and visiting some fantastic social good causes and NGOs.

That’s the kind of discovery travel I love.

Harry and Meghan have been heart-driven since before they were together, and at their wedding, this benevolence was made manifest with their request that gifts be made as donations to charities. Here is my first look to these particular royals for inspiration.

The Royal Wedding charities they listed were (click the links to find our more about each cause):

CHIVA (Children’s HIV Association), working to ensure young people living with HIV have the treatment and care, knowledge, understanding, skills, and wider support to live well and achieve their greatest potential.

Crisis, the UK’s national charity for homeless people helping people directly out of homelessness, working side-by-side in housing, employment, education, and advice services.

The Myna Mahila Foundation empowers women in the urban slums of Mumbai, India, employing women to manufacture and sell affordable sanitary pads back into their communities to improve menstrual hygiene, provide stable employment, and build a trusted network.

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Scotty’s Little Soldiers is dedicated to supporting children and young people who have lost a parent while serving in the Armed Forces.

Street Games uses sport to change lives for healthier, safer, more successful communities.

Surfers Against Sewage inspires communities to protect oceans, beaches, waves, and wildlife.

The Wilderness Foundation UK harnesses the power of the wilderness to transform vulnerable lives and empowers people to conserve nature.

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In addition to those charities chosen by the Royal Couple for wedding gift support, they co-lead The Royal Foundation (alongside Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). This foundation has multiple initiatives in several areas: mental health and removing its stigma, conservation of endangered species and wildlands, military service & veteran support, programs for young people, early education, and empowering communities.

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While they are in Africa they are visiting several projects, one I particularly sparked to, The Justice Desk, which operates in South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, empowering local people to understand and defend their human rights in order to build safer communities for all. They educate and equip, train and advocate for youth and vulnerable groups for justice and equality.

Mandela Day 2019 – #ActionAgainstPoverty

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July 18, is Mandela Day, a cause for celebration and gratitude. A day for looking for connection with others, not distance or difference. A day to honor and touch others.

Especially now. Especially in days so dark in so many parts of the world. A day we ALL need, desperately, with an eye toward building bridges between people, beliefs, parties, and privileges.

July 18 is the birthday of Nelson Mandela, “Madiba” as a name of respect from his clan heritage. The official Mandela Day recognition is now a decade old, since launching in 2009. In celebration of a decade, the next chapter (next ten years) are to be focused on five areas: education & literacy, food & nutrition, shelter, sanitation, and active citizenship.

For individuals and communities, it is a perfect day to look at how we respond to crisis, to disagreement, to discord. A shining opportunity to look at how we do for others and how we might do one thing more. A stunning day to look at how we sometimes retreat when chaos is too strong for us to navigate…when the exact opposite is the answer…to go forward and to reach out and do something for someone.

Mandela Day is a global call to action. Each of us has the power to change the world for the better. Each of us can make an impact on how we, as a global community, embrace peace, a shared sense of community, liberty, quality of life, and assured safety. Each of us can.

Human rights for every human, no one more than another–that is when we know we did it. We have a lot, still, to do. Many minds must open. Many hearts must open. Many conversations must open. Many hands must open.

Find listings of actions and activities and ways to get involved around the world here. Mandela worked for peace for 67 years–Mandela Day’s request is that we each start with just 67 minutes, especially in taking action against poverty. Got an hour for the rest of us? If not today, use this special date to commit yourself to doing something soon.

How will you open hand and heart today, to touch another? For Madiba? For yourself? For all of us?

Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter’s Anniversary – 73 Years in Service

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President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter have been married 73 years today. That’s a big long run, and a testament to willingness to discover fresh opportunities together.

Since his presidency, Carter has flourished for many years as a statesman and powerhouse in the charitable world. If you were so inclined, you could get involved in some volunteer opportunities driven by Carter.

Most of us have heard of Habitat for Humanity, the non-profit home building organization founded in 1976 and now working in all 50 states as well as more than 70 other countries, helping more than 22 million people so far. Jimmy and Rosalynn got involved early and rocketed awareness of Habitat with their ongoing work swinging hammers and building homes. Together with legions of volunteers (not requiring special skills, so any of us can get involved), they help families achieve strength, stability, and independence through safe, decent, and affordable shelter. Pop in your zip code to find your local Habitat here. You’ll find travel and build opportunities if you want to get busy on a volunteer vacation, women build options, programs specific to veterans, youth programs, college challenges, and emergency programs in disaster areas. At the end of a day volunteering, raising a wall on a new home or handing over the keys where a family can now make memories is the kind of payback we all crave.

Another of Carter’s major organizations is The Elders.

This auspicious group has been working since 2007  a group of global leaders, brought together originally by Nelson Mandela, to offer their influence and wisdom to the process of peace building and to address human suffering. In addition to Jimmy Carter, Ban Ki-moon, Graca Machel, Desmond Tutu, and Mary Robinson are a few others of the elders. The group was gathered and launched by Sir Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel.

There are so few cultures that still revere the wisdom that comes with age, the life spirit and lessons passed down through generations–it’s almost as if we move too quickly and are so desperate to reinvent and improve that we end up re-inventing the wheel instead of building upon the knowledge of those who have gone before us. What a loss.

The Elders focus on international rights issues and take on new challenges as they arise. Their collective plate is currently full with initiatives focused on: ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation; climate change, universal health, access to justice, conflict countries and regions, and refugees and migration.

Big, heady issues. Big heads taking them on. When was the last time you reached out to the generation before yours for guidance? Your parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, family friends, business mentors, or anyone older needn’t be a world leader to have incredible gifts of wisdom that are yours for the asking.

What Would Jimmy Do?

Praise vs. Thanks

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I’ve been wondering lately how clearly we hold the distinction between Praise and Thanks. Do we really know the difference? Does one of them, or the anticipation of receiving one, drive us more than another?

I’ve just returned from a 10-day exhausting and overwhelmingly fulfilling volunteer gig working with burn-injured children (Champ Camp of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation—it’s the largest and longest-running burn camp in the nation—reach out and I’ll tell you every little thing about it—you want to be a part of this, I promise)…and on the long drive home from the hot dusty foothills of Fresno, I reflected back on the week-and-a-half.

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I received a LOT of thanks for my work. I was often embarrassed, because it felt like praise and I, like so many of us, duck and deflect compliments…but I never want to avoid a thank you. A thank you deserves to be heard, received, and responded to (but NOT with that horrific reply “No problem”—Ooof how I want to thwack the head of every damn waiter and barista and service person who replies to “Thank you” with “No problem”…but that’s a rant for another day) with some grace. I also gave a lot of thanks to my fellow volunteers, not to slap them on the back as if to say, “Good on ya” but because I was (am) genuinely thankful for their hard and important work. It gets blurry in my own head which is which, but I know that praise is not important, gratitude expressed IS important.

If we functioned in a vacuum, with no one to witness our good deeds and service as volunteers, how much of this hard work would we still perform? I don’t mean to suggest that we do it selfishly to polish our halos and gain recognition for our selflessness—most of us are legit pretty darned selfless—there are MUCH easier ways to garner praise. If, however, we did a good deed in the forest and no one was there to hear it, might we just walk on by? Probably, at least some of the time. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around for my own self-image, but I think it is authentic.

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I wipe down the public restroom sink because I believe I should, not because someone is watching. I pick up the litter because it offends my sensibility to see it there, not because someone will clap for me. Those are tiny expressions. Will I, however, commit a week and a half to 24-hour-a-day service if I don’t get to humble brag about it on social media? Wow—I sure hope so. I have no sense of an audience for my service when I am in the midst of it all, but if I’m being honest, I sure do want you to notice afterward.

It’s not a peg on which everyone hangs their reputation, but the “being of service” thing is very much a part of who I am and who I say I will always be. How much of that is to feed my ego? I’m not sure. I’m probably being hard on myself with sleep deprivation and laundry and re-entry making my brain swirl. In the long run, what matters is that the good work is done and done well. If you volunteer because a spouse or parent or someone pressures you into it, or so you can include it on a resume or college app, or to get extra credit, does that matter? I say no. Do the work anyway. Sweat the sweat. Cry the tears. Laugh the belly laughs. Hug until it hurts. You might get some praise—big deal—but you WILL get thanks, and that IS a big deal.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the most important thanks is coming from you.

That seems like a trite statement but it is everything.

How Will You Spend Your MLK Day of Service?

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Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr has offered more quotable quotes to the zeitgeist than a boatload of news channel pundits, politicians, or presidents–perhaps because his public time in the spotlight was focused on realizing a greater future for all–a sentiment in shorter supply, today,than is healthy for us, I think. One of my favorites of his messages is…

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Today, many of us have a holiday from work, but it is not the Martin Luther King holiday we celebrate, rather the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a time to take a day ON instead of a day off. You should serve yourself as well–sleep in a bit, take some downtime to relax. Absolutely bask in rare extra hours with your family…won’t it be even more memorable if you, as a family, volunteer in your community? Kids are learning about MLK in their classes, but the lesson truly takes hold when they learn the spirit of the day by putting together care packages for the homeless, or cleaning up a public park, or shoveling the walk for a neighbor, or ladling stew at a soup kitchen, or, or, or…

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How can you creatively express your huge commitment to service? Without advance planning, perhaps you don’t have a volunteer project lined up for today–how about using the day to commit to action soon? Surf around to find a non-profit organization doing projects near you–there are so many resources for discovery, and SOOOO many organizations that need your assistance. When the new tax laws have most charities and non-profits quaking in their boots in anticipation of Americans donating RECORD LOW AMOUNTS to charitable causes, giving hours (in addition to) dollars becomes even more important.

There are web tools for you to use in your neighborhoods and towns, to find projects and programs that need your contribution. The MLKDay website has resources that are already serving the hundreds of thousands of people who will volunteer around the nation today, but the opportunity lasts long past midnight tonight. Use the website as a jumping off place. I promise there are other day of service events and tasks in your immediate region, school, place of worship, block, etc. What’s that? You already made plans for today you can’t break? You’ve got a little time coming up…Next weekend. On your birthday. On your anniversary. On the day a loved one passed to honor them. Or on an ongoing basis. What if today is the day you find a brand new, exciting passion project that completely fires you up? It is out there–I can promise you that, and they truly need you and what you bring. You don’t have to be a certain age, have expertise, have physical abilities, have endless free time–none of that is required for you to contribute.

Contribution can be a scary word–our brains go toward yet another request to open our wallets. What if you re-framed it and held the meaning of the word more closely to its intended use in language: the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance. What matters at the very root of it all is the contribution of your art, your passion, your enthusiasm, your voice, your ability to encourage and inspire others, your willingness to take a stand on an issue that matters to and moves you. Move things forward. Move our country forward, for you truly have the ability (without spending a cent).

“The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

#BarbieSavior is Funny, But Maybe Damaging Too

Barbie doll behind rose stemsLook, I get it. I think the whole #BarbieSavior meme that has taken Instagram by storm is pretty hilarious–pretty dolls posed in the worst possible ways mocking “savior” voluntourism situations, clearly motivated by the plastic needs of the plastic character to assuage her own guilt and show the world how fabulous she is. (The photo in this blog, BTW, is NOT from BarbieSavior…it’s just Barbie)

I get that it’s all cool to be jaded and superior and above it all. Hell, I know lots of folks who make a living at it with professional snarkiness being their trade.

I also wonder if that route isn’t too easy. I wonder if pissing all over the best intentions of others moves us forward in even the slightest way, or if it, as I suspect, demeans and degrades us all, the critics as much as those they criticize. I think it’s brilliant that Savior Barbie has a tribal tattoo of the African continent, and gives her high heel pumps to tiny dolls of color, and puts dreadlocks in her perfect blonde hair. She is the Queen of cultural appropriation and, by herself (and her very astute creator), serves as a terrific cautionary tale…HOWEVER…what happens when you shame the folks that truly ARE making a difference?

Especially with the political process going on right now, I have a fair bit of cynicism exhaustion.

What happens when the NGOs and charitable organizations around the world doing truly meaningful, progressive, transformative work that is generated from WITHIN the communities (not delivered…or dispensed… from without) cannot survive without volunteer efforts?

What happens when the foundations shutter due to lack of interest and it guts the jobs of the locals who were running the programs? All so we can feel holier than thou pointing out how others feel holier than thou?

It’s pretty messed up that our default setting seems to be resignation and negativity and suspicion when we are faced with stories of people trying to do something positive in the world.

Do I sound defensive? I am quite sure I am. AND I firmly believe we can help educate and uncover the multitude of amazing, effective, non-harming ways that people can volunteer that leaves ALL in a better place than they would be without these programs and initiatives.

We can teach people about how to look for shady companies and avoid them. We can help them know the questions to ask of voluntourism organizers. We can illuminate the way to diagnose if a program is generated by the people served, and if it is their genuine wish to have help and how to discern and avoid like the plague those that are band-aids or put locals out of work or exist mainly as feel-good photo opps that do more harm than good.

One sassy college student’s experience with a crappy couple of volunteer ventures she didn’t vet very well can not be extended to the entire world’s volunteer situation, no matter how many people share her blog. She is WRONG, not about her experience, but about making that mean that her very specific and unfortunate circumstances are somehow universal.

My main question: Is that really where you want to put your energy? Does doubting and damning somehow give you something?

I ask because I want to know.

I ask myself.

*and by the way…in addition to being truly funny, the folks at BarbieSavior.com have this great statement on their site:

Together we have over a decade of studying, traveling, and working abroad. While this left us cynical and jaded enough to create Barbie Savior, we know full well that this issue – and these conversations – are so much bigger than us.

We don’t have the answers. This site we hope will become a place where we can pose questions, promote conversation, and try to learn together how to best do better.


Photo: horantheworld | CC License