I live in one of the more prosperous nations in the world and I was born with a host of advantage I didn't earn. I grew up with the gifts of security, sufficiency, and education. That alone makes me fortunate beyond measure.
I was raised with the understanding that my good fortune came with a price: a moral obligation to give back to the society and the world. My parents always gave generously to charitable causes and my husband and I now support several charities that are involved in the issues that matter most to us: the environment, social activism, and enabling economic independence world wide.
Charitable giving is all well and good, but our debt to the world is still larger than can be paid off with signing a check. I believe that it is our responsibility to be an active participant in our communities. Without that invisible and intangible web of volunteering and active involvement, there is no community.
I know all the excuses: we're busy, it doesn't make that much of a difference, someone else will show up, I don't have anything to offer. I've used each of these excuses myself at various times in my life. I don't anymore. I've seen the power of a single volunteer, combined with lots of other single volunteers: it's a force to be reckoned with.
So, here is a list of some of the ways in which I give back. Some are more visible than others. Some are small things, like shoveling a neighbor's walkway since I have the shovel out anyway. Others larger and more tangible: I still smile, remembering all the concrete I helped mix for the local playground build.
Caring Canines -- My dog takes me along to visit at local hospitals, day programs, and nursing homes. She is the star here: I just provide the chauffeur services and the dog treats. :) It's an all volunteer organizations, tirelessly run by dedicated and caring folks with a passion for dogs and the healing they can bring.
Newton Community Farm -- I manage the website and developed a wiki for our local community supported agriculture project. Since I have a 'brown' thumb, it's safer to keep me away from the growing plants.
Poetry Workshops for elementary school children -- I love writing with children. They are so honest and direct in expressing their emotions and the poetry they create is vibrant. Every year for at least the past 5, I've gone into our local elementary school and run workshops for children ranging from grades 2 through 6.
Save a Dog -- we adopted our dog through this wonderful all-volunteer organization. My son designated them his Bar Mitzvah charity and donated 10% of his gift money to them, in addition to volunteering to help with their 'meet and greets' in which dogs are matched to potential adopters. We are also in process to become a foster family for temporary foster care for adoptable dogs.
Online Poetry workshop -- As the head moderator, I probably spend the equivalent to a half-time job in hours each week reading and critiquing for our members and making sure the environment is a safe and open one for poets to share their work. It is a labor of love, pure and simple.
Community Playground fund raising and build -- I helped manage the website for our local community playground. And when the money was raised, I took part in two weekends of playground build days in which we got our hands dirty. I now know how to mix concrete. :)
Local volunteer day -- one day a year, our town hosts a volunteer day in which teams of volunteers work on a community service project. I've done these for years, typically helping clean up the playground we built. This year, I was co-captain for the project to clean up the brook that runs past our house and empties into the Charles River.
Behind the scenes in our schools -- created a database for the elementary school PTO to organize the work of creating the parent directory, sat on school councils for elementary and middle schools, took over the website and PTO database for the high school, was the parent editor of 2 elementary school yearbooks.
So here's the challenge: how do you give back? Not with your checkbook, but with your hands and your heart.
Join the 'Giving Back Challenge'. Blog about how you volunteer in your community and drop a comment here to let me know about it. It is my belief that involvement is what matters. Not politics, not government policy, but people to people contact. This is the best way I know to celebrate The International Day of Peace.