Friday, November 25, 2011

Making a Difference in 2011

I write about a lot of volunteering days and another one is coming up December 5—International Volunteer Day.  This one has been sponsored by the United Nations since 1985 and 2011 is the ten year anniversary of the year of the volunteer in 2001. 

The UN General Assembly will be discussing volunteerism between now and December 5 and you can listen to and chime in on their discussions here.  There’s also a photo contest to show how volunteering can help countries meet peace and development goals.
November 19 was also National Family Volunteering Day. But none of these volunteering days means a thing if they are not celebrated in the spirit of volunteerism, by doing something to help others.

So, on the Wednesday before National Family Volunteering Day, my son and I went shopping.  We bought sunscreen, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, razors, dental floss, candy canes, summer sausage logs and crackers for a group of 800 Army soldiers in Afghanistan. The unit we bought these items for is also equipping a school for local children, so we purchased pencils, crayons, pens, coloring books, pencil sharpeners and erasers for the children.  Then on November 19, we packed everything up and mailed it to Afghanistan.

It just so happens that we also made a delivery of non perishable items to the local food bank that day.  A friend and I had celebrated our 11/11/11 birthday together and asked people to bring a nonperishable item or cash donation in lieu of gifts.  They were preparing a meal for the homeless when we dropped the food items off.  I mailed the cash donations to another food bank on Monday.

What will you be doing to help others before the year is over?  Opportunities to buy presents for others and to give your time to organize charity events and programs abound this time of year. It’s a great way to teach your children that helping others is important if you have a family and a great way to connect with others yourself if you don’t.
This year you can start a new tradition—a holiday tradition to help others—like serving dinner at Thanksgiving to the homeless, attending an annual Christmas fundraising event or choosing a child to sponsor through Operation Christmas Child, Toys for Tots or your local church.  I’ve even seen grocery stores exhibit angel trees where you can sponsor a local child.

One of the best places to get on board the gangway to charity events is Charity Happenings.  This site has charity events around the country and throughout the year.  If you’re looking for a charity athletic event like a walk, run or ride, try FirstGiving.

Another great source for ideas of things to do is VolunteerGuide.  I particularly like this site because it breaks down ideas into three categories—a few minutes, a few hours or several days on a volunteer vacation.  Then, the ideas are separated into types of volunteering from poverty, children’s issues, animal welfare, community development and environment to health and safety.  You can choose what you want to do and how much time you have to give to it.
These are just a few resources, but there are many more.  I'd love to hear what you do to make a difference this time of year or any time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

2011 Alternative Gift Options: 17 Shopping Websites for Charitable Gifts

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up quickly, I thought I’d provide a few shopping resources for the conscientious charitable shopper. Here is a list of places you can buy gifts that give in more than one way.  These gifts make the receiver smile, help someone in need and give you a good feeling inside.  

Gifts That Give to Charities

A number of companies now give a set amount or percentage of the sale to a charity when you purchase goods from them.  It’s an easy way to get a product that you would normally buy while also giving to a good cause.

Gifts.com – has put together a list of gifts which give a portion of the proceeds to different charities including products from Ralph Lauren, LaCoste and Clarins
Gifts that Give – designer products you can buy where 20 percent of proceeds go to charity
Gifts That Give More from the Hunger Site – buy a wide variety of items from around the world and food goes to the hungry
Shop For Good – items from well known companies ranging from Barnes & Noble to Walmart that donate a percentage of their proceeds to charity
 
Christmas Cards and Other Items

Many charities offer Christmas cards, ornaments and the like to raise money for themselves. Cards are probably the most popular items from these charities, but click over to their sites and you’ll find a lot more for sale.
Cards for Causes – provides 20 percent of the cost of holiday, business and other cards to a charity of your choice.
CardsThat Give provides a list of and links to charities that sell greeting cards and other Christmas items

Choose Your Charity Gift Cards

Want to give a charitable gift in someone’s name but you’re not sure which charity they’d support?  Buy a gift card for them and let them choose the charity.

The Good Card – $5 fee above the charitable donation covers shipping and other processing fees so whatever you give on the card all goes to the charity. Card expires six months from purchase.
Tis Best Gift Card  - has no shipping costs and allows you to download your own image onto the card, but does have a $1.49 cost if you send a plastic card instead of emailing or printing your own. The charity receives the entire amount on the card, less a $1.95 transaction fee and three percent credit card processor fee.

Teach a Man to Fish Gifts
If you want to provide education, livestock, medical care, water or other things that help people in poverty around the world become independent, these organizations are for you.  Most companies offer a card or description of your purchase so that you can give a gift in someone’s name and send them a card that describes the gift and thanks them for it.
Alternative Gifts International
Compassion International
Heifer International
Mercy Corps gifts
Oxfam America Unwrapped
Plan International
Save the Children
Trees for Life International
World Vision International

If you don’t do much shopping online, there’s another way you can help charities while you are out finding special deals on Black Friday.  While you’re shopping in stores, you can earn kicks™ from Shopkick which can be donated to 30 different causes. It’s an app available from Android or Apple.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Movember Month and Military Day

This month is a phenomenon in men’s health known as Movember. It’s all about sporting a Mo (mustache) and growing it to great lengths while you shun shaving for the month. At the end of the month, you can show your Mo at a Mo Party.

In the meantime, you can share why you are growing your facial hair and why else? To support men’s health.  The Movember site has tons of information about men’s health, prostate cancer and testicular cancer as well as health resources for men.

While growing your Mo, you can also raise money to support research on cancers that affect men such as prostate cancer.  The funds go to programs run by Movember and its partners, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

You can create an online page to which people can contribute for your Mo growth. Movember offers prizes for the teams with the best Mo page, the team and individual that raises the most money and also has random prizes for those that raise smaller amounts.

Before you start thinking this is just a men’s thing, I have to tell you that the Mo Bros are joined by Mo Sistas, too, and they can win their own prizes for fundraising.

Movember is an international event, having begun in Australia and grown to include Mo Bros and Mo Sistas from Russia to Antarctica.  At each of the Gala Part├ęs, a man of Movember will be chosen and will then be in the running for International Man of Movember who gets two travel experiences, including an 11 day tour of Vietnam. 

Istock photos is getting in on the Movember train by matching donations to the iStache team up to $10,000 and doing crazy contests on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

I haven’t forgotten that today is Veteran’s Day as well. I just didn’t want to put off the blog on Movember any longer for those men who want to start growing their Mo’s today. 

I recently joined booksforsoldiers.com and found out that they are behind on their fundraising this year.  One of the ways you can honor soldiers is to send a donation their way.  They also provide lists of soldier requests for books and magazines, but you have to complete a form and send it in to get access.

I’ll just mention a few ways you can help soldiers and honor veterans, but the best site I have come across for veteran and soldier support is Military.com’s Support Our Troops. The site lists just about every program that’s out there so you just need to choose which one interests you the most.

I’ve also mentioned in my website’s “Today’s Ways to Help” that Polish-made Sobieski Vodka will contribute to the Fisher House each time you buy a bottle of their vodka up to $250,000 over the next year ending September 1. The Fisher House provides housing for military families when their loved ones are recovering in a military hospital.

So, don’t forget our military and also men’s health in Movember!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Me, Myself and Why

As my first blog for my own website, I felt I should explain a little bit about how I got to this point. Since August of 2010, I have been blogging about volunteering and charity work for Working Mother Magazine’s website. I call it the Heart to Heart blog because I believe that helping others is a heart matter. When we help others, we connect hearts.

We may never see the fruit of our heart work, but it is there in the heart of the recipient.  That is why I chose to call this blog Helping Hearts. We are hearts that help other hearts when we reach out to others through volunteer or charity work.
I am a writer who has written for newspapers, websites and magazines since 2002, but I found that there was a particular type of article I was writing that I felt was more important than the others, that had more meaning.  I was writing features about teachers, volunteers and other inspiring people who gave of themselves without expecting a payback.

They reminded me of how I wanted to live my life.  I had always sought to be a helpful person and to give whenever I was asked so far as I could. As a Christian, I deeply felt that I should also reach out and help other people. I had done a lot of things—feed people at homeless shelters, do Sunday worship for inmates at a jail, sponsor a child in a third world country. 
When I was first teaching, my mentor teacher was always willing to help and I took on her philosophy that I should always offer to help.  It became kind of a mantra for me, but after having a baby and two major sicknesses, I had pulled back from helping others somewhat. 

You see, it’s easy to become cynical about helping others.  It’s easy to see the homeless man take your money and go to a bar and think, “I won’t do that again.” Maybe you shouldn’t.  Maybe you should offer food the next time. But that shouldn’t stop you from feeling compassion. I think our hearts get hardened sometimes by experiences in our lives and we may pull back from those less fortunate than ourselves. We may even think they did it to themselves somehow. 
But who wants to be helpless?  The cancer patient feels helpless; the homeless man feels helpless; the wounded soldier feels helpless; the foster child feels helpless.  We all have times when we feel helpless ourselves so we know how scary it can be.  We also know people who have gotten us through those times by being there for us. We need to be there for other people, too. 

That’s what this blog is about—helping other hearts.  When you see or hear about someone in need, it should pull on your heart. That’s the way God wants us to feel.  When we get too hard to feel for others, we’ve lost something very dear.  There are many easy and cost-free ways to help others and I share those on my website and will in this blog, but it’s also important to give something more significant sometimes, to give of yourself so you can reap the reward of knowing you truly made a life-changing difference.